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Dallas Turns To Aerial Spraying To Control West Nile


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Texas can't catch a break. First, a bitter drought, now officials in Dallas are fighting a nasty outbreak of West Nile virus. A quarter of the nation's current confirmed West Nile cases are in Dallas County. There, 10 people have died, and hundreds more have been sickened from mosquitoes carrying the virus.

For the first time in nearly half a century, much of the county has begun aerial spraying to control the pests. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has our story.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's another hot day in Dallas, although highs in the low 90s is practically cause for a parade. A nasty hail storm a few weeks ago caused hundreds of millions in damage here in East Dallas, and roofing contractor Don Aranjon is a happy man.

DON ARANJON: Oh, we've been doing probably three a week. It's been real good since we got the hailstorm.

GOODWYN: Aranjon's got 15 men up on roofs. Everything they touch got sprayed from the air last night with an oily based insecticide. But they couldn't see anything when they got to work this morning.

ARANJON: I asked them about it, and they didn't even know they sprayed. So we didn't see any difference.

GOODWYN: The residue was almost certainly there, however, although by morning it was hard to tell. There's been some pushback on the aerial spraying because, of course, the pesticide, called Duet, doesn't just kill mosquitoes but other insects, too. But most of the city seemed to take it in stride.

BILL SINGER: We didn't do a thing. All we did was just make sure the dog was in, and at the time when they were out spraying, we were sleeping.

GOODWYN: Bill Singer lives in the eastern part of Dallas that was sprayed last night, but like the roofer and his men, he couldn't see any evidence of residue this morning.

SINGER: No, we haven't seen any signs of it, no odors or anything that we can see with the naked eye.

GOODWYN: There's been a lot of media coverage in the area, especially in the last few days as the city began to debate whether to spray and, if so, how. Some cities are and some cities aren't. Fort Worth is spraying using trucks. Garland, Richardson and Mesquite are also spraying from the air.

Other suburbs are doing nothing, since nearly all of the deaths are in Dallas. The problem is winding down naturally. The percentage of traps found in Dallas with West Nile-infected mosquitoes has gone from 35 percent to 21 percent in the last two weeks.

That's still pretty high, but Bill Singer hasn't changed his habits.

SINGER: I've sat out every morning and read my newspaper like I always do. I mean, if we sit out there in the evening, we'll feel them, and my wife will say, oh, I'm getting bitten, and we'll go inside. So we know they're there, but it hasn't been as bad as it has been in years past.

GOODWYN: Singer is in his 60s, so he's in the age group that should be careful about getting infected with West Nile, but he's fit and athletic, and even though there have been 10 deaths and a lot of people sickened, he says he's not affected by what he describes as a media frenzy.

SINGER: I'm sure it could happen to me, but something could happen to me just crossing the street. So it's not something that I just lay awake at night worrying about.

GOODWYN: The vast majority of people who get sick do get well again. In fact, 80 percent of those bitten by infected mosquitoes show absolutely no symptoms. But West Nile disease is no fun and if somebody in your family gets it, it's scary.

The aerial spraying tonight could begin as early as 8:30, compared to 10 P.M. last night. That's because the earlier you spray, the more mosquitoes you kill. But people will have to be off the streets just after sunset. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.