Health officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta are calling the current outbreak of mosquito-transmitted West Nile Virus (WNV) disease across Texas the worst outbreak in the state’s history, causing cities across the state to launch comprehensive pesticide spraying programs in an effort to protect the public.

The death toll related to West Nile Virus in Texas this year has reached 17 so far and health officials from Austin to Atlanta are warning that number could go higher. Also at risk are farm animals, especially horses, and Texas AgriLife officials are warning farmers and ranchers to take steps now to control potential mosquito breeding grounds to protect both humans and animals.

In addition to stock ponds and water troughs in rural areas that serve as mosquito breeding grounds, officials say the problem is serious in urban areas as well. Dallas County, for example, has begun aerial spraying of pesticides to control mosquitoes for the first time in 45 years, largely because of concerns that public schools are set to open this week and next, which has alarmed parents over the dangers.