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West Nile virus prompts Dallas Mayor to declare state of emergency

The CDC has confirmed nearly 700 cases of the virus nationwide


West Nile virus is blamed for 10 deaths and 200 illnesses in the city of Dallas, prompting the mayor to declare a state of emergency in America’s ninth largest city.

West Nile virus has resulted in almost 400 infections and 16 deaths state-wide, according to Texas officials. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile virus can be blamed for 693 cases and 26 deaths nationwide in 2012, as of August 14.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared a state of emergency in Dallas on Wednesday and said the city has agreed to undergo its first aerial spraying of insecticide since 1996, when West Nile virus resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen due to encephalitis, or irritation or swelling of the brain.

The aerial spraying could take place as early as Thursday evening, depending on weather conditions. The aerial assault is a controversial move, carrying both risks and rewards. Mayor Rawlings has said the rewards outweigh the risks.

“I want to take the politics out of it,” the Mayor said. “I want to say this is my responsibility. I will take the heat for it.”

Texas officials have made assurances that the aerial insecticides used are safe for humans, although some continue to worry about the effects of such poisons on at-risk patients.

Dr. Beth Steven, 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.”

Mike Raupp, at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture, was asked during an interview with CBS This Morning about the risks of the aerial insecticide to be used in Dallas and across northern Texas.

“This is a matter of concern,” Raupp said. “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.”

Raupp added that the combination of birds carrying the West Nile virus, the high population of mosquitoes, high temperatures, wet conditions and a population susceptible to the disease make the situation possible, particularly within the center of the U.S. He continued to call the current outbreak in Texas and elsewhere across the nation “quite disturbing.”

The aerial assault to be used in Dallas will be conducted by the national spraying company Clarke, which has a contract with the state’s health department. The state will pay for the $500,000 operation using emergency funds. Clarke officials have said they will use two to five planes across Dallas County in the operation.

Dr. Lon Kightlinger, a South Dakota disease specialist, has said that the actual number of West Nile cases reported nationwide might be much higher, because most people do not recognize that they have been infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 150 patients becomes sick with symptoms of the virus that include body aches, chills, low-grade fever, paralysis and coma.

Jordan Conner, 15, is just one of the hundreds of victims in Texas to be infected with West Nile virus. A rare strand of the virus affects her brain and at any moment could cause her to lose consciousness or control of her limbs. The teen’s mother, Ebonie Conner, told CBS News, “Jordan went from lethargic when I woke her up to go to the doctor, to being narcoleptic.”

“It’s kind of like the flu, only I kept getting headaches… couldn’t feel body parts,” Jordan explained to ABC affiliate WFAA. “Like when I waked, I didn’t have balance; it felt weird.” Jordan did not realize the dire state she was in, “I thought they’d give me a shot and I’d get better.”

Jordan spent eight days in the hospital and will have to endure many more in rehabilitation. “It’s just been unimaginable,” the girl’s mother said.

More information on the 2012 outbreak of the West Nile virus can be found at the CDC’s website. 

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