Beekeepers are angry about a new Dallas County contract to arrange for possible aerial mosquito spraying if human cases of West Nile virus surge.
The beekeepers fear aerial application of insecticides that kill disease carrying mosquitoes will also kill useful insects that help gardens produce food.
Members of the Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association discussed those fears over lunch at the Garden Café, an East Dallas restaurant in front of a garden that grows some of the food.
“If we really want to grow our city and grow south Dallas, then we’ll have more people growing food. And you can’t grow food if you don’t have pollinators. Pollinators make it happen,” said beekeeper Brandon Pollard.
Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson said cities must specifically request aerial spraying before the county’s hired planes will fly.
“We want to be prepared if aerial spraying is necessary,” Thompson said. “Right now, we’re seeing an uptick in the number of positive mosquito traps.”
Dallas County has reported six human cases of West Nile virus so far this year. Tarrant County reported its first 2016 human West Nile virus case on July 13.
But Thompson said the rate of mosquito infection is approaching the levels of 2012 when 20 people died in Dallas County and 398 became ill. Tarrant County reported 280 human West Nile Virus cases in 2012 and 11 deaths.
“This year is very concerning,” said Dr. John Carlo, a public health expert. “We don’t want to be aerial spraying. That’s the last thing we want to do. However, what we do know, West Nile is a horrible, horrible condition, particularly what we saw in 2012.”
Carlo said overnight aerial spraying was an effective weapon in 2012.
“As soon as it happened, the rates went way down in both the infected mosquitoes and the number of human cases. So from our assessment, we did see a very positive result,” Carlo said.
The beekeepers want other mosquito control tactics used instead.
“We encourage more proactive and more protective methods of dealing with these mosquito issues in as much as larvaciding and source reduction and not just blanketing spraying our neighborhoods,” Pollard said.
Dallas County already uses all those other methods and targeted ground spraying has been used this year as well.
Thompson said the complaints about possible aerial spraying are not new.
“We already went through that whole discussion about the concerns that people had. We heard everyone. We moved forward in 2012. We’re saying we are ready to move forward again if it’s necessary,” Thompson said.
Since 2012, North Texas health officials have greatly expanded the number of mosquito traps used to monitor possible infection and expanded other West Nile virus prevention programs.
The experts urge everyone to wear bug repellent to avoid bites since infected mosquitoes are known to be present. Clothing to cover arms and legs is suggested at dawn and dusk when West Nile mosquitoes are most active. Getting rid of standing water that breeds mosquitoes is strongly recommended, too.
Mosquito-carried Zika virus is another concern this year, but so far no Zika-infected mosquitoes have been detected in North Texas. All Zika cases reported in the region so far have come from contact with infected mosquitoes in other countries.
The mosquito variety thought to carry Zika is active at all hours of the day, so Zika mosquito control strategies would be different in mosquitoes that test positive for that disease.