Dallas, Texas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D) has declared a state of emergency in that city over the spread of West Nile virus, which has killed 10 people in the Dallas area and infected more than 100 others, leading to more than 65 hospitalizations. According to the Dallas Morning News, Rawlings has called for aerial pesticide spraying to kill the mosquitos that spread the virus.
“I think this is the right thing to do. I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we didn’t take action,” Rawlings told reporters.
Agence France-Presse reports that the CDC lists 693 documented cases of West Nile in the U.S. so far this year, including 26 deaths. That means the U.S. is on track to outpace last year’s 712 cases for the entire season, which ends in the fall. Texas had only 27 total cases and two deaths in 2011. Texas leads the nation both in the number of cases and fatalities from the disease.
When asked why the number of infections has risen so sharply this year, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Christine Mann suggested that the year’s mild winter and rainy spring may be contributing factors, but that “it’s not really clear at this point.”
While deaths so far have been among the elderly and frail, or people with other underlying medical conditions, the strain of West Nile found in the victims has been the more serious, neuro-invasive species of the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that West Nile virus, which was first identified in Uganda in 1937, is carried by birds and rodents, but is transfered to humans by mosquito bites.
The CDC says that 80 percent of infected people manifest no symptoms of the disease at all, but that “Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.” Other symptoms include neck pain, sweating, stupor, muscle convulsions, vision loss, numbness, paralysis and coma.
Some Texans are against the aerial spraying program, saying that the pesticides used in the maneuvers are more harmful to more people than cases of West Nile itself would be. The city council of Sachse, Texas, which lies within the Dallas County area, has voted to opt out of the spraying program.
Spraying in Dallas could begin as soon as Thursday. City council members called upon citizens to step up their own prevention efforts at home, including eliminating standing water, picking up trash, raking away piles of leaves and debris, using effective mosquito repellents and staying indoors during peak feeding hours like dusk and dawn.
A list of counties opting in and out of the spraying program is available at the end of the article, here.