DALLAS, Texas — The last time Dallas used aerial spraying to curb the mosquito population, Texas' Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, Mission Control in Houston was launching Gemini missions and encephalitis was blamed for more than a dozen deaths.
But for the first time in more than 45 years, the city and county planned Thursday to resume dropping insecticide from the air to combat the nation's worst outbreak of West Nile virus, which has killed 10 people and caused at least 200 others to fall ill.
"I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we did not take action," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.
Although commonplace in other major cities, the efforts are provoking a debate in the Dallas area between health officials trying to quell disease risk and people concerned about insecticidal mist drifting down from above.
Nearly half of all West Nile cases in the United States so far this year are in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the trend continues, 2012 will be the worst West Nile year in state history.
The hot, dry weather across the nation's midsection has created ideal conditions for mosquitoes. The heat speeds up their life cycle, which accelerates the virus replication process, and any standing water in drought-plagued places is turned stagnant — their preferred breeding ground.
Both the mayor and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins have declared a state of emergency and voiced their support for an aerial defense. Yet even with the threat of infection, the spraying has sparked widespread opposition from people who fear the chemicals could be harmful.
Because of the severity of the outbreak, the Texas Health Department is stepping in to oversee the effort and to pay for it.