Local governments preparing their attack on West Nile

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

Last year, cases of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in animals and humans made headlines for months.

This year, local governments are fighting the pests on a variety of fronts, from mosquito spraying and larvicide application to educating the public on ways to avoid being bitten.

Natchez Public Works Director Richard Burke has been busy buying spraying equipment and chemicals and carbon dioxide mosquito traps.

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And getting larvicide packets ready.

And attending a mosquito control seminar.

He doesn’t know yet when the city will start applying the water-soluable larvicide packets to standing water where mosquitoes are most likely to breed.

&uot;We’ve only gotten a couple of complaints (about mosquitoes) so far, especially since the weather’s been cool &045; but when they start up, we’ll be ready,&uot; Burke said.

That’s especially important since there is no vaccine to protect humans from West Nile virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes from infected birds to horses and humans.

Most humans develop only mild symptoms, such as headache, fever, dizziness or slurred speech, but the virus can lead to encephalitis, a more serious illness that can cause brain damage or death.

In addition to applying larvicide, city crews will spray adulticide to kill mature mosquitoes, but they will only spray problem areas, not the whole city.

&uot;The adulticide is not going to kill mosquitoes unless you spray it right on them,&uot; Burke said. &uot;The larvicide is much more effective.&uot;

The city had originally budgeted $86,000 for this fiscal year for mosquito control, but that amount has since been amended to $103,000. &uot;Our main concern is that it’s a health issue,&uot; Burke said.

Meanwhile, the Adams County Road Department is applying larvicide packets outside the city and encouraging residents to do the same.

Larvicide packets are being distributed on weekdays at the Road Department headquarters on Liberty Road as well as satellite facilities at 106 Liberty Road, 176 Foster Mound Road and Majorca Road.

&uot;We’ve ordered about 500 of those packets, but only about 10 people have gotten their so far,&uot; said Road Manager Bobby Powell, whose department also distributed the packets last year free of charge.

&uot;If people have any standing water on their property, if they would notify us, it would be helpful to controlling (mosquitoes),&uot; he said. &uot;But also, my department is out riding the roads to set if they can find some of those places, too.&uot;

The Road Department has $14,000 budgeted for mosquito control for this fiscal year.

And although a date has not yet been set, the county will ask the company in charge of its garbage pickup to set aside a day to pick up waste tires and other debris that can collect water where mosquitoes can breed, Powell said.

Both Burke and Powell said they are also stressing to residents the importance of getting rid of standing water and limiting the time spent outdoors at dawn and dusk.

Public participation &uot;is the cheapest and safest way&uot; of dealing with West Nile, Burke said.

Education the public is also a key to mosquito control to the south, in Wilkinson and Amite counties.

Though detections of West Nile virus were limited to birds and horses in the Wilk-Amite area last year, local officials are now renewing their efforts to alert residents and prevent the spread of the mosquito-borne disease.

&uot;Last year, we sent out handbills.

This year, we will place notices in our local newspaper and on the utility bills we mail out to emphasize the importance of eliminating standing water sources,&uot; said Gloster Mayor Bill Adams.

Such advisories are well-founded, considering that neighboring Pike County experienced one of the highest rates of human infections &045; nine human cases and one death &045; of counties nationwide last year.

Since mosquitoes breed in standing water, State Public Health Veterinarian Brigid Echols said it is crucial that people rid their yards of any items that trap water, such as old tires or cans.

&uot;Most of the people who got sick last year probably got infected near their homes.

Everyone should clean up standing water sources on their own property,&uot; Echols said.

Adams said the town will place a community dumpster on Railroad Avenue this summer to give Gloster residents a place to discard junk items.

&uot;It’s an added expense for the town, but we believe it’s helpful,&uot; he said.

Residents should also make sure gutters are draining properly and remember to change water in birdbaths or pet containers regularly.

&uot;Three of the four life cycles of mosquitoes are spent in standing water.

If you eliminate those sources, you reduce the chance of transmission,&uot; Echols said.

Echols said towns should also use larvicide tablets to kill eggs in standing water sources before they hatch.

&uot;Larvicide is more economical and effective than adulticiding (spraying), but you have to start early,&uot; she said.

Adams said Gloster supplemented its spraying efforts by applying larvicide pellets to standing water sources such as ditches last year, and will continue that practice.

Centreville Mayor David Owens and Woodville Mayor Gary D’Aquila both said larvicide treatments will be included in this year’s mosquito abatement plans.

&uot;I have some literature on the larvicide that I intend to share with the board at our next meeting,&uot; Owens said.

Gloster and Centreville both own spraying equipment, and Adams said Gloster has already begun spraying along its streets.

Owens said Centreville will probably start spraying next month.

Woodville contracted with Centreville for spraying services last year.

D’Aquila said he intends to gather information on spraying equipment and larvicides to share with board members at their next meeting.

&uot;I’m going to talk with the people at the state Department of Health.

West Nile will be on the agenda at our next meeting,&uot; said D’Aquila, who also plans to stress the importance of community efforts to remove standing water sources in his local newspaper column.

Echols said since the chemicals used to spray for mosquitoes are costly to small towns, spraying should be considered the last step in a four-part plan that begins with personal protection.

&uot;People should avoid being outdoors during peak biting times if they can.

If you do go out, you should wear protective clothing and use repellant,&uot; she said.

A community effort to eliminate standing water sources, followed by the use of larvicides and adulticides should all be part of any town’s mosquito control plan, Echols said.

But Mississippi officials aren’t the only ones with a plan to protect their citizens against mosquitoes and West Nile.

With the mosquito months of May and June rapidly approaching, a new mosquito abatement program will help to protect Concordia residents from West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness received its first grant of $15,000 from the Department of Health and Hospitals to start a mosquito abatement program that will control mosquito borne viruses through spraying, surveillance, education and evaluation.

Morris White, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, said he is expecting another grant of $100,000 for the program.

The grand total budget for the program, which figures personnel, equipment and supplies, insurance, a building, a contingency fund and other materials, comes to $570,800.

In addition to the $100,000 grant, there is also a Federal Matching Grant in the Senate and if it passes and the local government can match it the budget would be reduce by $200,000. The adjusted start-up year budget would be $270,800.

The Department of Health and Hospitals expects an early mosquito problem this year because of the weather conditions, White said.

Since Louisiana did not have a hard winter and has been damp, those conditions are ones in which mosquitoes thrive, said White.

White said mosquito spraying will begin next week. But he also said the real secret to killing mosquitoes is larviciding &045; killing mosquitoes before they’re born.

The larviciding process is initially more expensive than spraying but White says it is more effective.

The abatement program will try to focus on areas where there are more adult female mosquitoes because they are the only ones that bite, White said.