(CBS News) The city of Dallas has declared a state of emergency over the West Nile virus. The worst outbreak in years is blamed for 10 deaths and 200 illnesses in America’s ninth largest city.
The mayor has approved aerial spraying to stop the spread of the virus. It’s a measure that hasn’t been seen there since 1966. The aerial assault against mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus in Dallas county could begin as early as Thursday. It’s a controversial move that the mayor says carries more rewards than risks.
“I want to take the politics out of it,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “I want to say this is my responsibility. I will take the heat for it.”
Jordan Connor is one of hundreds of West Nile victims in the Dallas area. The rare strand of the virus affects her brain, and at any moment she could lose consciousness or control of her limbs. Ebonie Conner, her mother, told CBS News, “Jordan went from lethargic when I woke her up to go to the doctor, to being narcoleptic.”
Despite official assurances the aerial poisons are safe for humans, some worry about the effect on at-risk patients.
Dr. Beth Stevenson, an obstetrician-gynecologist, told CBS News, “We are going under the assumption that this isn’t going to be harmful for mother or unborn child.”
Texas officials say state-wide there have been almost 400 West Nile virus infections and 16 deaths.
Mike Raupp, of the University of Maryland College of Agriculture, said on “CBS This Morning,” the combination of birds carrying the virus, the high population of mosquitoes, high temperatures and wet conditions, as well as a susceptible population, have made the situation possible, particularly in the center of the U.S. He called the current conditions in Texas and elsewhere “quite disturbing.”
(For more with Raupp, watch his full “CBS This Morning” interview in the video below.)
Asked about spraying, Raupp said, “this is a matter concern.” He added, “I know that the elected officials down in Texas labored over this one quite a great deal. But it’s a risk benefit analysis here. … Basically, in this case, I think the benefits of these sprays far, far outweigh the risk. We’ve got people dying in Texas. We’ve got 16 people in the state now, we have more than 700 cases nationwide. The risks of being harmed by these pesticides are not at all unreasonable. The materials they are using are the same pesticides you would use to spray the vegetables in the garden or some of the pests that invade your home. These are relatively safe materials.”