By Mike Barnett
The West Nile Virus outbreak in Dallas and attempts to control the mosquitoes that spread it show what a crazy old world this really is.
While people are dying and others sickened by the devastating disease, others petition the city to stop its insecticide spraying program because honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs may fall victim.
Make no mistake about it—this is the worst outbreak of the West Nile Virus in years. Ten people have died in Dallas from the disease and 200 are sick. The city has issued a state of emergency. The national Centers for Disease Control said there are 693 cases nationwide and 26 deaths in 43 states. Big D is the epicenter of this outbreak.
Decisions to use pesticides are not easy. I know how it works in agriculture, so I can understand the city’s decision to spray. But local residents have valid concerns, as they should. Understanding how and why pesticides are used could allay some fears.
Here’s what you should consider about pesticide use, whether it’s in an emergency situation by government to safeguard public health, use in agriculture to protect a crop, or use in your home to combat pests.
- All approved pesticides used by municipalities, households or agriculture undergo rigorous testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These tests judge risk, tolerances and rates of use that are safe for humans and animals.
- The pesticides used by municipalities and agriculture are broadcast by trained applicators who receive intensive instruction on their proper use. Applicators are licensed and follow label instructions established by EPA on application and rates. The same can’t be said for household use. How many of you have sprayed half a can of bug spray to kill a hornet’s nest?
- Pesticide use is generally part of an integrated strategy to target a specific pest and leave beneficial insects alive.
So how is all of this working in Dallas? I understand the insecticide being used in the aerial spraying is Duet, which kills adult mosquitoes on contact instead of repelling them.
Duet is made out of synthetic pyrethroids, which mimic the natural insecticides made from chrysanthemums. EPA has tested Duet and says it is safe to use around humans, pets and wildlife. The dosage being sprayed is extremely low.
The City of Dallas, I understand, is spraying at night, which makes a lot of sense because mosquitoes are active at night. Most people are inside at night. Those concerned with the spraying have plenty of warning to stay indoors.
Duet breaks down quickly into carbon dioxide and water when exposed to the sun. Honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs are active during the day and should be safe.
As part of their integrated strategy, the City of Dallas is recommending residents take some common-sense measures as advocated by the Texas Department of Health. All Texans should take note, as West Nile cases have been found across the state.
Those measures include:
- Apply insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus when outside. Spray exposed skin and clothing, following directions on the label.
- Stay inside at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
- Drain standing water in backyards and the neighborhood: old tires, flowerpots and clogged rain gutters offer mosquitoes ideal conditions in which to breed.
Most people won’t get sick when bitten by a mosquito infected with West Nile Virus. One in 150, however, can develop a severe case of the disease. Symptoms include headache, high fever, nick stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle paralysis and even death.
I wouldn’t want to be one of the 150. It looks to me like the City of Dallas is using all means at its disposal—including the use of an approved insecticide that is used in cities across the country, including Houston—to halt a devastating disease.
Some people are trying to stop it based on unfounded fears about honeybees, dragonflies and ladybugs. A little education could go a long way.
It really is a crazy old world out there.