Daily News Archive
Mosquito Sprayers Gear Up On Insect-Borne Diseases
(from March 7, 2003)
Government and mosquito
sprayers are gearing up for the 2003 spray season. On Monday, March
3, 2003, scientists and government officials from across the country
convened for the annual American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA)
meeting. The meeting is focused on several issues, including West Nile
virus (WNv), a mosquito-borne disease that has resulted in heightened
fear of mosquitoes throughout the country. Participants gathered to
discuss WNv along other insect-borne diseases that may appear, along
with how to prevent and control them.
As the weather warms,
many communities will be dealing with the issue of mosquito control
and WNv. While recognizing the importance of WNv as a public health
threat, experts say it is important to realize the limited threat that
mosquitoes pose. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service addressed the public's
heightened fear of mosquitoes based on information from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Service states, "Contrary
to media descriptions of 'the deadly West Nile virus,' WNv is rarely
fatal in humans. Less than one percent of people who acquire the disease
will experience severe illness. Within this small proportion, the fatality
rate is about 3-15%." Dr. Brian Rogers, health authority in Ft.
Worth, TX, says the chances of becoming seriously ill or dying from
West Nile virus are "extremely minimal."
Agencies addressing WNv and other insect-borne diseases, such as dengue
fever, malaria, yellow fever and encephalitis, must decide the best
way to protect the public. In this decision-making process, it is important
to realize the limited efficacy of pesticides in controlling mosquitoes.
A large part of this has to do with the inability, especially in an
urban environment, to hit target insects with typical ground spraying
from trucks or by aerial application. In addition, pesticides can pose
a grave threat to residents. The pesticides most commonly used across
the country are neurotoxic and some have been linked to cancer. Children
with respiratory problems, such as asthma, are particularly vulnerable
to these pesticides and will suffer disproportionately from exposure.
Environmental contamination is yet another concern. Brian Boerner, director
of Environmental Management in Ft. Worth, says, The spraying of chemicals
also has the potential of contaminating our waterways, killing the beneficial
fish and organisms that feed on mosquito larva, adding harmful volatile
organic chemicals to the atmosphere-a precursor chemical to ozone formation-and
providing a potential inhalation or ingestion hazard to residents who
are in affected areas shortly after spraying occurs."
Fortunately, there are alternatives. Beyond Pesticides recommends an
integrated system that includes community education, prevention, monitoring,
habitat modification, biological controls and bacterial larvicides.
For more information, see Beyond
Pesticides' West Nile Virus and Mosquito Management Program Page,
which includes a Public
Health Mosquito Management Strategy, a memo
to public health officials, and a Backyard
Mosquito Management factsheet. Contact Beyond
Pesticides for a copy of the West Nile Virus Organizing Manual ($10