Amid one of the worst outbreaks of West Nile virus ever seen in the U.S., officials in the Dallas area of north Texas have declared war, launching all-out chemical warfare on mosquitoes.
Airplanes took off from Executive Airport on Thursday night, flying at about 300 feet and covering numerous communities with pesticide — for the first time since 1966. They were called back after several hours due to an incoming storm, but at a press conference on Friday officials said they planned to resume spraying again at dusk, weather permitting.
The Centers for Disease Control said that of the nearly 700 cases of West Nile virus infection recorded across the U.S. in 2012, over half have occurred in Texas. So far, 17 have died in the Dallas area alone.
CBS Dallas said that officials plan to coat nearly all of Dallas and several nearby cities in pesticide to break an alarmingly rapid spread of West Nile. Additional cities are in discussions to join the effort as soon as permits can be issued. The air space around former President George W. Bush’s home, however, was excluded from spraying.
The outbreak is particularly bad thanks in part due to the extra rain Texas received this year after a long 2011 summer of extreme drought. The extra rain left standing water on drought-hardened ground to pool and stagnate instead of being flushed out by fresh rains throughout the spring, creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. The ensuing hot, dry weather this summer — recently ranked the hottest summer in recorded history — has sped up the breeding cycle and helped newly hatched West Nile-bearing mosquito varieties thrive.
Scientists at the World Health Organization (PDF) believe that climate change — which triggers greater weather extremes including hotter summers, milder winters, longer droughts and harder rains — is a prime mover in helping mosquito-borne illnesses thrive.
Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), however, says he believes that climate change is imaginary and that the vast scientific consensus on the phenomenon is based upon manipulated data. The state’s Commission on Environmental Quality was also recently caught censoring mentions of climate change in an annual scientific report on the health of a key coastal ecosystem.
Symptoms of West Nile include fever, muscle weakness, headache, rashes on the torso, nausea and vomiting. Few West Nile infections end up resulting in death, but if it morphs into West Nile encephalitis, victims can become comatose or experience disorientation, stiffness, tremors, vision loss and paralysis.
This video is from CBS DFW, broadcast Thursday, August 16, 2012.
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