Dallas to ramp up sustained West Nile prevention campaign

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on August 26, 2012 at 9:55 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 26 at 10:29 PM

DALLAS — The City of Dallas says it's ready to ask for more aerial spraying to combat disease-carrying mosquitoes if needed.

For now, ground spraying will resume Monday in target areas where infected insects and human cases of the West Nile virus are still showing up.

With 156 people infected and five dead in Dallas as of Friday, City Hall knows it needs to do a lot more in public education to fight West Nile virus, and those plans are under way.

Until this month, the city's West Nile virus policy has been mostly reactive — to initiate ground spraying where mosquito traps find positive samples and human cases of West Nile are diagnosed.

There have been few prevention messages, but that's about to change.

With aerial spraying in Dallas over for now, some critics — like Janet Reynolds of the Citizens Coalition for the Nontoxic Abatement of West Nile Virus — maintain that it never had to start.

"The crisis that has occurred could have largely been prevented," she told City Council members last week.

Only in the last two weeks did the city aggressively pursue prevention efforts.

City marshals cracked down on tire shops with no permit, showing how they dispose of scrap tires that often get dumped and become ideal for standing water where mosquitoes breed.

Police, code officers and firefighters looked for stagnant water, too, and the city's website prominently urged people to drain standing water.

The city also urged TV stations to air a West Nile public service spot with little success as citizens like Marsha Webb demanded the City Council create a sustained public education campaign.

"I know that there have been steps taken, but I think that we need significantly more than that," she said.

"I concur with that," said Mayor Mike Rawlings. "We do not want to be in a situation that we were in this year where had to use what I thought was the last resort."

The city staff got the message, and is turning to the water conservation campaign that produced the "Lawn Whisperer" ads for help.

Dallas Water Utilities spends $860,000 a year on media buys supporting an effort that has helped cut water use, and the city says a West Nile virus component will be added.

Details are being worked out, but it's a start.

Dallas City Council member Sheffie Kadane — whose East Dallas district has seen West Nile infections — endorsed the effort.

"I'm in hopes that we will start educating immediately on how to prevent this from happening again," he said.

The City Council will be briefed on the public outreach effort Monday morning.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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