BATON ROUGE, La. — Twenty-four new cases of West Nile virus infections have been reported in Louisiana, bringing the total this year to 92 cases in the state.
The Department of Health and Hospitals said Friday that more than half of the total — 47 — are West Nile neuro-invasive disease, the more serious form of the virus that infects the brain and spinal cord and can cause brain damage or death.
DHH’s weekly report says no additional deaths have occurred, though six people this year have died after contracting the virus.
West Nile virus has been active in Louisiana since 2002, when the state experienced 328 cases and 24 deaths from the disease.
Meanwhile, in Dallas County, Texas, unfazed residents took to recreation areas and running trails one day after airplanes dropped gallons of pesticide from the skies to fight the nation’s worst West Nile virus outbreak.
After a round of spraying was cut short by rain Thursday, four more planes were scheduled to cruise over the rest of the county Friday night.
The virus spread by mosquitoes has left 10 dead and more than 200 sick in Dallas County, which is home to 2.5 million people and the city of Dallas. Officials say it will be a record year for West Nile virus, and about half of the United States’ cases are in Texas.
Although commonplace in other major cities, the efforts have provoked a debate in the Dallas area between health officials trying to quell the disease risk and people concerned about insecticidal mist drifting down from above.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said that the insecticide, Duet, poses no significant threat to humans or animals, though it is toxic to fish and other types of aquatic life.
The first round of aerial spraying covered 52,000 acres in north and east Dallas County on Thursday evening before storms grounded the planes, said state health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams. Health officials also set traps Friday to determine the spraying’s effectiveness, and another aerial mission is scheduled for Monday night to catch mosquitoes hatched over the weekend.
In east Dallas on Friday morning, dozens of people ran, walked and biked around White Rock Lake, apparently unconcerned with the pesticide sprayed hours earlier.
Darren Willis, 37, of Garland, caught several fish at the lake, which had been doused with insecticide Duet just hours earlier. He said he stayed indoors during the spraying, but wasn’t concerned about lingering chemicals.
Other residents weren’t as confident. Some holed up inside their houses to minimize contact with the pesticide, which they fear could harm their pets, children and personal health.
Adrian Serrano, 28, isn’t sold on the EPA’s seal of approval. He didn’t plan on leaving his house Friday, and shut off his air conditioner. His concerns are mostly for his family — two small children and a pregnant wife.
“I’m worried about them breathing it, and it could damage them,” Serrano said in a phone interview from his home. “I just don’t want them to get exposed to it.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins assured residents that a check of area hospitals Friday morning revealed no reports of negative reaction to the sprayed pesticides.
“We didn’t expect and we don’t expect to hear any of those reports,” Jenkins said at a news conference. “Why would our citizens be any different than every other American who’s experienced this?
Jenkins said that though he has listened to aerial spraying opponents, he felt it was the right decision and would prevent more deaths.
“Watching those planes take off, I knew our citizens would be safer,” he said.
The hot, dry weather across the nation’s midsection has created ideal conditions for the Culex mosquito, which carries the virus. The heat speeds up their life cycle and accelerates the virus replication process. And during a drought, standing water can quickly turn stagnant.
Most people infected with West Nile virus won’t get sick, but about one in 150 people will develop the severe form of the illness. Symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he will wait until he sees scientific proof that the aerial spraying was effective before deeming it successful.
“We’re only going to be pleased when we see the signs that the mosquitoes have been killed and that the West Nile cases have dropped precipitously,” Rawlings said.