In the battle against the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus (two area men died this summer because of it), there is but one hope: to contain the spread of the Culiseta melanura mosquito, and to eradicate it wherever it is found.
To do that will take additional funding to boost state programs already in place. State entomologist Alan Graham recently spoke at a public forum held at Middlebury College, along with other state and local officials, where he sketched out the problem: he’s the sole mosquito testing and surveillance official in Vermont; although he’s a state employee, he is funded through the federal U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which sends money through the Vermont Department of Health by way of the Agency of Agriculture. The CDC funded Graham’s work to the tune of $50,000 in 2012, down from $190,000 the year prior.
With $140,000 in cuts from the federal government (you can thank the anti-government forces on Capital Hill for that — what good does government do, anyway), the task for local and state sources will be all that much greater. As it is, Graham’s work is supplemented by the Lemon Fair Mosquito Control district, which coves Cornwall and Bridport and has an annual budget of $100,000, with some funds coming from the state for larvicide. The Brandon, Salisbury, Leicester and Goshen mosquito district receives $57,000 from taxpayers in the four towns, while the state pays for larvicide treatment from aerial spraying. A single drop in 2011 averaged around $11,000. The state funds for this spraying comes from fees associated with boat licenses, which have dropped since the 2008 recession.
In short, the source of funding for combatting the spread of EEE is stretched thin with federal money on the decline and local sources strapped for cash and tapped onto the property tax. (In case you missed that passing connection: when federal aid is slashed, taxes for such crucial things as fighting the spread of disease often go up at the state and local levels.)
That’s problematic when the answer to fighting EEE is to employ more monitors and testers on the ground, and then apply the larvicide to those pools hosting this particular breed of mosquito.
Graham told the crowd that regular monitoring and testing of mosquito pools in the Whiting and Brandon areas found that seven pools harbored the Culiseta melanura mosquito. Based on that evidence, he was confident area residents would see the return of the species next year and possibly its spread to other areas. Just as the West Nile virus, malaria and yellow fever are arboviruses (a virus spread by an arthropod, such as a mosquito), so is EEE.
Because surveillance is key in looking for the pools that host the arbovirus, more feet on the ground is crucial. As Gary Meffe, chair of the BSLG, said, “It’s unquestionable that the state needs to find a funding source for this. Talk to your legislators because we need several more Alans (doing the surveillance.) It needs to be a line item in the state budget.”
That’s a message that Addison County residents should take to heart, and a message area state legislators should take to their colleagues in Montpelier with the utmost concern. The case to be made is serious and straightforward: It’s far better to try to stop the spread of the Culiseta melanura mosquito now, in this relatively defined area, than have it spread and become a statewide scourge.
Angelo S. Lynn