Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News
Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey says aerial spraying is a safe and effective way to reduce the number of mosquitoes. Dallas County is calling for aerial spraying in north Dallas, Highland Park and University Park.
University Park and Highland Park announced Friday night that they are accepting a Dallas County recommendation to conduct aerial spraying for mosquitoes to help fight West Nile virus.
The county unanimously authorized a plan earlier in the day to mist neighborhoods from the air with pesticides in North Dallas, University Park and Highland Park.
"With a plane you can hit a much ... larger area, and you can hit it more uniformly and more directly," County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "With a truck, for instance, the house and the hedge may block the backyard, but it's not a problem with the planes."
The triangular area bounded by the Dallas North Tollway, Interstate 635 and Interstate 30 has the highest concentrations of mosquito pools in the county.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement that he agrees with the county's plan and would meet with city, county and state officials early next week to determine a specific approach.
"We have been studying this issue diligently and concur with the county's decision," he said in the statement.
County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county had requested planes from the state. Dallas County's request for 40 additional insecticide trucks and crews remains in effect, he also said in a statement.
Texas already has private planes lined up. They're often used along the coast after hurricanes.
The five planes are expected to arrive sometime next week.
Aerial Spraying Raises Questions
For days, there has been a debate over whether Dallas County should opt for aerial spraying, with some saying the county should continue with ground monitoring and ground spraying.
"There is an inherent apprehension that a lot of folks have about chemicals released by airplanes, and so part of our job today was to cut through that and look at the data," said Dr. David Lakey, Texas health commissioner.
During ground spraying, people are warned to stay inside and to bring their pets insides. The same pesticide used in ground spraying -- Aqualuer 20-20 -- can be used from the air with careful monitoring of wind speeds.
Lakey said there is no real threat with aerial spraying.
"All of our experience is that it is a safe and effective way to ... cut down the number of mosquitoes," he said.
Aerial spraying is common in California, Florida and even Houston.
Aerial Spraying Is Shift in Policy
Dallas County officials previously had resisted aerial spraying, which the county has not done since 1966.
Earlier this week, the Dallas County Medical Society, a group of doctors, urged the county to agree to aerial spraying. Two of the doctors attended Friday's meeting with county officials.
On Tuesday, Jenkins and the rest of the Commissioners Court had publicly endorsed an expanded ground-spraying plan laid out by Dallas County Health Director Zach Thompson.
The plan called for spraying in the hardest-hit areas three nights in a row from trucks.
On Thursday, the county declared a state of emergency because of the growing West Nile virus outbreak. County health and emergency management officials then met Friday afternoon with top health officials from the state and federal government.
"The recommendation of the top official in the United States of America ... tells me that it is far more uniform and as safe or safer and has a better chance of eradicating this disease, which has claimed nine lives already in Dallas County,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the expanded ground spraying would begin this weekend and that Thompson had always planned to study the option of aerial spraying.
“We had that discussion today,” Jenkins said.
Thompson attended Friday's news conference announcing the aerial-spraying plan but did not speak.
Historic Outbreak of West Nile Virus
Dallas County is experiencing the worst outbreak of West Nile virus in county history. The county had 181 human cases of West Nile virus as of Friday evening, far more than the old record of 104 cases, which was set in 2006. Nine people in Dallas County diagnosed with West Nile virus have died.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most West Nile virus infections are reported in August and September, so it is not yet clear how bad this year will be.
West Nile Virus Facts
Most people bitten by a West Nile virus-infected mosquito will not show any symptoms. Symptoms, if they appear, are fever, headache, nausea, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and skin rashes.
Fewer than 1 percent of those infected with West Nile virus experience the serious form of the illness. Serious symptoms include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors or convulsions, vision loss, muscle weakness and numbness or paralysis.
Both Dallas and Richardson are urging residents to:
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff, Ellen Goldberg and Scott Gordon contributed to this report.