WHITING/BRANDON — After lightning and bad weather forced Vermont Department of Health officials to cut short an effort last Thursday to spray pesticide over parts of Whiting and Brandon to kill mosquitoes carrying a deadly disease, they finished the job on Friday evening.
Officials acknowledged that communication during the start of the public health emergency — which started when the first two human cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Vermont were diagnosed in area men, and when mosquitoes in those towns tested positive for EEE on Sept. 1 — could have been better. But by week’s end they said the lines of communication had opened up.
“At the begging of this crisis communication was a bit lacking” from state officials, said Gary Meffe, chairman of the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen Mosquito Control District. “We’ve all learned there were challenges and difficulties in the state transmitting of inform to the towns and the mosquito district in the beginning.
“I think they’re on it now,” he said on Friday afternoon.
State officials launched the program to spray the pesticide Anvil 10+10 to kill a particular variety of mosquito that carries EEE. Mosquito pools in Brandon and Whiting that have tested positive for West Nile virus in the last few years on Sept. 1 also tested positive for EEE. Like West Nile virus, EEE is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.
Richard Breen, 87, of Brandon suffered the first human case of EEE in Vermont and died last Tuesday. On Friday a Sudbury man remained hospitalized with the disease.
The Department of Health planned to spray Anvil 10+10 over two 16-square-mile areas near mosquito pools that have tested positive for EEE on Thursday evening. The Whiting spray zone is centered on Stickney Road between Cornwall and Whiting. The Brandon spray zone lies between Leicester and Brandon along nearly all of Grove Street. A map of the spray zone was online at www.healthvermont.gov or www.vermontagriculture.com; click on the “About mosquito-borne diseases” link. More information about spraying and precautions to take for people and animals are also at those sites.
The BLSG mosquito district did an initial spraying from trucks of its traditional mosquito pesticide in all four of its towns last Sunday and Monday nights. Agency of Agriculture Pesticide Program Section Chief Cary Giguere said that this insecticide, although not targeted for the particular mosquito that carries EEE, will help improve the overall situation.
“Oh absolutely, we’re doubling up,” he said.
Officials said that one thing that could have made reaching out to the public more effective would have been use of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union automated phone system to broadcast information.
Meffe said some of the lack of information from the top down could be understandable since the crisis developed over a holiday weekend, and an emergency of this type is new in the state.
“I think we’re all learning and innovating as we go, and I think the state has made a good-faith effort to try and communicate to people what is happening,” he said.
Unfortunately, new threats may become more common, some say, as the climate changes and animal and plant species move into territories where they have never been before.
“We know that climate change increases the likelihood we’ll see even more mosquito-borne diseases,” said Lauren Hierl, environmental health advocate at VPIRG. “So it’s critical that Vermont officials do everything possible to detect and stop potential disease outbreaks at the earliest stage.”?
The Vermont Department of Health provides a number of recommendations for preventing mosquito bites, including:
• Limit the amount of time spent outdoors at dawn and dusk.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside when mosquitoes are active.
• Cover baby carriages or outdoor play spaces with mosquito netting.
• Fix any holes in the screens in your house and make sure they are tightly attached to the doors and windows.
The Department of Health also recommends reducing mosquitoes near your home by doing the following:
• Remove standing water around your house.
• Dispose of, regularly empty, or drill holes in the bottom of any water-holding containers (including trash cans and recycling bins) outside on your property.
• Clean clogged roof gutters of leaves and debris that prevent drainage of rainwater.
• Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
• Change water in birdbaths every three or four days to prevent stagnation.
• Keep swimming pools clean and properly chlorinated. Remove standing water from pool covers.
• Use landscaping to keep standing water from collecting on your property.