DALLAS — Officials in Dallas, Texas and the surrounding county of the same name are continuing to spray by land and air in an effort to suppress mosquitoes that spread the West Nile virus. Health officials have reported more than 200 cases of fever caused by the virus in the Texas city, several times more than have been reported anywhere else in the country. The illness has also caused 10 deaths.
Many people in Dallas continue to work and play outdoors, but they are heeding warnings from health officials to protect themselves.
Fifteen-year-old Macias says he has followed the news reports of West Nile cases here. “Yeah, I am concerned because if it comes to us, there is a chance you could die," she said.
Maria Salgado knows about the illness firsthand, having come down with it in her native Mexico some years ago. “It gave me a high fever, pain in the bones and I felt dizzy and did not want to get up," she said.
Salgado says she is taking precautions now especially with her children.
Both the county and city of Dallas have declared emergencies and have started spraying the entire area with chemicals that target the mosquitoes that spread West Nile fever.
The aerial effort has been disrupted at times by storm systems moving through the area.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who directs the program, says the recent rains may explain why this urban area has so many more West Nile cases than any other place in the country. “Because we have had drought throughout and a little less drought in our area than the rest of the state and now we are having wet and it is hot, that may have something to do with making the conditions so ripe," he said.
Local citizens for the most part support the spraying efforts. “As long as there are mosquitoes with West Nile and as long as it is a health hazard, I think it is better to spray," said one man.
But there are also many critics of the spraying program, including local organic farm operator Marie Tedei, who worries about the effect on beneficial insects like bees. “Honey bees are on our farm to help my farm be more productive and we know that bees are very sensitive to this pesticide," she said.
She also thinks local officials have exaggerated the West Nile threat. “More people get influenza every year, probably in far less time than our whole summer of West Nile cases, are they going to start dropping influenza vaccine from airplanes to vaccinate the whole population?”
Judge Jenkins dismisses such complaints, saying there is no indication that the spray is harmful. “I think if there was going to be a problem to humans, pets, beneficial insects, we would have seen it by now. We haven't and neither have other cities that have done this," he said.
Jenkins and other local officials say studies have shown the chemicals being applied are safe and effective and that their top priority is protecting local citizens from a potentially deadly disease.
With luck, local officials hope the continued spraying will help them get this problem under control in the coming days.