Mosquitoes are more than a pesky warm-weather nuisance — they may be carrying the West Nile virus. Four out of five people who contract West Nile experience no symptoms at all, but the disease can also cause rashes, flu-like symptoms and neurological damage. The virus has claimed a handful of lives among Metroplex residents (mostly seniors) in recent years.
Unlike neighboring Tarrant County, Dallas County’s mosquito control program includes controversial spraying. Dallas County Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Jacqueline Bell notes that spraying is considered a last-resort tactic in the county’s overall program and claims that the pesticides used are not toxic. She does warn, “It is very important to keep children indoors during spraying hours in order to avoid allergic reactions.” (Subscribe to Dallas County’s weekly West Nile e-mail newsletter, including maps of areas where West Nile has been found and complete spraying schedules, by e-mailing email@example.com.)
Advocacy groups condemn spraying, citing research linking pesticide exposure to increased risks of Parkinson’s, cancer, autoimmune disease, endocrine disruption, neurological impairment, asthma and more. “Less than 0.0001 percent of ULV pesticide sprays actual reach the target mosquito population, which is one reason it is both ineffective and potentially hazardous,” says Jennifer Land, a local spokesperson for Concerned Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control and member of the Alliance for Informed Mosquito Management. “The rest lands on unintended targets like streets, private citizen’s lawns, toys, outdoor furniture, etc.” She advises families in areas being sprayed to close all windows, turn off window air units, bring toys, lawn furniture, pets and pet bowls inside, and cover swimming pools. After spraying, remove shoes when entering the house, clean pets’ paws before letting them in and don’t allow children to play in recently sprayed areas.
Protect your family by preventing mosquitoes from taking hold near your home. Get rid of all standing water, from trash-can lids and kiddie pools to buckets and flowerpots. Change water in pet dishes, wading pools and birdbaths several times a week. Dress the kids in light-colored, long-sleeved clothing when you’re headed outdoors in areas known to attract mosquitoes.
Insect repellents are vital when playing in buggy parks and back yards, but stronger isn’t always better. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that repellents containing DEET are safe and effective, a recent study at Duke University Medical Center showed that DEET causes brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats after frequent and prolonged use. Fortunately, kid-safe remedies work just as well. The CDC notes that repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus are as effective as low-dosage DEET products. Soybean oil-based repellents like Bite Blocker also scored high in research (but were not publicized by the CDC).