Dallas County launches aerial spraying in fight against West Nile virus

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DALLAS — After more than 40 years of fighting mosquitoes from the ground, Dallas County launched an air attack Thursday night, hoping to stop the spread of the West Nile virus that has killed 10 people and severely sickened 230 others.

Two small twin-engine airplanes took off from Dallas Executive Airport in Oak Cliff about 10 p.m. local time on their way to release a fine mist of insecticide over the hardest-hit neighborhoods in North and East Dallas, the Park Cities, Garland and portions of Richardson and Mesquite.

Steven Williams said he changed his mind about spraying after he and his 21-month-old son, Micah, were attacked by mosquitoes at an Uptown park three weeks ago and suffered West Nile symptoms.

“A few days later, (Micah) had a super high fever,” said Williams, who also was ill for 10 days, although he did not get a formal diagnosis.

“I’m happy they’re spraying,” he said, “but I’m not so certain on blanketing the city with pesticide.”

City and county officials were hoping for calm acceptance of their attempt to curb the nation’s worst West Nile outbreak this summer.

“This is about people’s lives,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who appeared at Executive Airport on Thursday afternoon to outline the spraying plan.

“There’s a lot of sentiment that people don’t want this,” Rawlings said. “But the CDC, EPA and many cities across the United States say this is safe.”

Still, the North Texas Poison Center was inundated this week with callers worried about aerial spraying. Nearly 300 calls came in Thursday, almost doubling the daily volume.

Callers wanted to know if they should cover their swimming pools (no) and what to do if insecticide gets on their skin (gently rinse with soap and water for several minutes), said center manager Melody Gardner.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who threw his weight behind the effort last week, stood at Rawlings’ side Thursday to explain the need for aerial spraying, something that hadn’t been done here since the 1960s.

“When it comes to elected leaders, their first and foremost responsibility is to keep people safe,” Jenkins said. “I prayed about it. And I decided to go with the science.”

More spraying is likely tonight and over the next several days, if the weather cooperates, although the exact time and areas to be sprayed were not yet decided. In all, 11 cities north of I-30 asked for aerial spraying. Some cities south of Dallas also may opt in.

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