MIDDLEBURY — Some local and state officials want the Legislature to double the funding for mosquito control and surveillance in light of two recent cases of mosquito-borne illnesses in humans.
The revelation came at a monthly meeting of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission last Wednesday at Middlebury College featuring a panel discussion on the issue.
The discovery of Eastern equine encephalitis in two area men, one of whom died on Sept. 4, has prompted public warnings and aerial pesticide spraying. Up until this year, EEE had been detected in Vermont only in deer and moose, as well as in 19 emus that died of the disease in Brandon last September.
Roughly 25 people attended the regional planning commission panel discussion at McCardell Bicentennial Hall at on Sept. 12. The panel featured Tom Baskett, chair of the Lemon Fair Mosquito Control Board; Gary Meffe, chair of the Brandon, Salisbury, Leicester, Goshen Mosquito Control Board; Agency of Agriculture entomologist Alan Graham; and Department of Health epidemiologist Erica Berl. The forum was moderated by ACRPC Chair Harvey Smith, a state representative from New Haven.
Graham, who is the sole mosquito testing and surveillance official in Vermont, first broached the topic of funding. He said that although he gets a paycheck from the state, his position is really funded by a federal agency.
“Since 2000, I’ve been funded through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, through the Vermont Department of Health, through the Agency of Agriculture,” he said.
The CDC funds Graham’s work to the tune of $50,000 a year, he said.
The Lemon Fair Mosquito Control district, which covers Cornwall and Bridport, has an annual budget of $100,000, with some funds coming from the state for larvicide. The BSLG district receives $57,000 from taxpayers in the four towns it serves and the state pays for aerial treatment of larvicide. The cost of spraying larvicide from the air varies depending on time of year, but Meffe said a single application in 2011 cost around $11,000.
The state funds for larvicide come from fees associated with boat licenses, and since the start of the recession collection of those fees has fallen.
Once each official gave an overview of what they do and the current status of the EEE issue (no new cases have been reported and aerial spraying in two areas of Brandon and Whiting was completed Sept. 7), the panel took questions from the audience.
The first questioner asked what officials planned to do differently now that EEE has been detected in humans in the Champlain Valley. Berl responded that the Department of Health hopes to increase surveillance and testing of mosquitoes.
“We have to plan that EEE is going to be present in this area next year,” she said.
Graham agreed, saying the specific species of mosquito that carries the EEE virus, the Culiseta melanura, will be here next year.
“Based on what we’re seeing in the Whiting (test) swamp this year, I think we’re going to see the Culiseta melanura next year,” he said.
Graham said regular monitoring and testing of mosquito pools in Whiting and Brandon, seven of which tested positive for EEE this year, is the only way to control the spread of the disease. EEE is an arbovirus, meaning a virus that is spread by an arthropod, such as a mosquito. West Nile virus, malaria and yellow fever are also considered arbovirus.
“Surveillance is key in looking for arbovirus,” Graham said. “We do need the Legislature to focus on how to increase surveillance around the state.”
Meffe agreed and urged those present to contact their legislators, and to advocate for money to hire more monitors like Graham.
“It’s unquestionable that the state needs to find a funding source for this,” he said. “Talk to your legislators because we need several more Alans. It needs to be a line item in the state budget.”