Walnut Ridge City Council members Michael "Button" Wallin (left) and Paula Haskins (right), along with City Clerk Carolyn Hayes and Mayor Don House, discuss the threat of West Nile Virus at a special meeting Friday night.
WR Council discusses West Nile
The Walnut Ridge City Council held a special meeting Friday night to discuss a plan of action to combat mosquitoes that could bring the West Nile Virus into the city. College City Recorder/Treasurer Joy Ring and Dale Leatherman, vice president for business affairs at Williams Baptist College, also attended the meeting. As of Friday, no cases in this area have been reported to the Arkansas State Health Department, according to Mayor Don House. However, the virus has been reported in seven Arkansas counties and has caused two deaths in Western Arkansas.
"I have been following the spread of this virus since Dallas began reporting cases there, and I want to make sure we do everything we can possibly do to protect the citizens of Walnut Ridge," said Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin, chairman of the mosquito committee. "Nothing more and nothing less."
Wallin has volunteered the use of his plane and his services in the event the need for spraying by air becomes necessary. The Walnut Ridge Regional Airport will sell the city fuel for the plane at half price.
"Preventative measures need to be taken," said Mayor Don House. "We want to let our people know that Walnut Ridge is prepared to address the problem if it becomes necessary."
"The mosquito count in Walnut Ridge is down right now," said Roy Marshall, city mosquito superintendent. "We are keeping a close check on our mosquito traps to make sure the numbers are not increasing."
One concern is that with the rains and/or winds from Hurricane Isaac headed toward Arkansas, the mosquito population will likely increase dramatically, which increases the chances of the West Nile Virus hitting Walnut Ridge and College City, who also pays the city of Walnut Ridge for mosquito control.
The council agreed to spray the city by plane if the mosquito count begins to increase. Alderman Rob Combs voted against spraying by plane, but was in favor of spraying the chemical by truck, which he feels would have less environmental impact.
Wallin and Alderman Wendell Jones told Combs the trucks cannot reach the mosquitoes that are up in trees and other high places, but the plane can.
In the event the mosquito count goes up considerably, the city will spray with Aqualuer 20-20, a chemical highly recommended by the company in Newport that supplies the chemicals the city uses for mosquito control throughout the summer. Wallin said the company told him the chemical kills the insects on contact, which would greatly decrease the number of mosquitoes following an aerial spray and allow spraying by truck to then keep the numbers under control.
"I am going to contact the FAA and get their approval now so that if we see that we need to spray by plane, we'll be ready," Wallin said. "We don't want to wait until someone here comes down with the virus before we take action. We'll watch our numbers and stay in close touch with the state health department."
"Our citizens will be given advance notice if we have to spray by plane," he added. "They may want to take some precautions such as staying inside while we are spraying, and maybe bringing in their pets."
The council also agreed there are things citizens can do to help reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes such as cutting tall grass, emptying anything containing standing water and removing anything that can harbor the insects. Health experts advise taking precautions to reduce the chances of being bitten by mosquitoes, such as using repellent from dusk to dawn and wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors.
On Aug. 22, the Centers for Disease Control released figures that showed 1,118 known human cases of West Nile Virus in the United States, including 41 deaths nationwide with two in Arkansas. That number is an increase of 425 cases in one week and the highest number ever recorded in the U.S. at this time of year. According to the CDC, the true numbers are likely to be higher, since cases emerge at local and state level before coming to the federal agency's attention.
"We're in the midst of one of the largest West Nile oubreaks ever seen in the U.S.," said Dr. Lyle Peterson of the CDC. An elderly woman died from the disease in Fresno, Calif., officials said on Aug. 21. Six people have died in Louisiana this year. Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma accounted for 75 percent of the cases by Aug. 24. Tennessee and Missouri have also reported cases.
A warm winter and ample spring rainfall (in some states) have been blamed for the sharp rise. About half of all infections in the U.S. this year are in Texas, but according to the CDC, West Nile is present in 47 states. Texas is the epicenter of this year's outbreak and, Dallas is spraying insecticide from planes for the first time since 1966. Other cities are following suit.
West Nile was discovered in the U.S. in 1999. It typically peaks between mid-August and early September and is thought to be transmitted when mosquiotes bite infected birds, then people. The virus is usually worse in drought conditions.
Most humans who are infected do not become unwell, but around one in five develop flu-like symptoms and fewer than one percent of victims may suffer neurological complications that can lead to brain damage and death. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk.