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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Mosquito Season Heats Up

Thanks to recent warm, wet weather - mosquitos are out in force.  That has many in towns around Brandon concerned - because that’s where the mosquito born Triple E virus killed two people last year.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or Triple E, and West Nile are both rare and potentially deadly viruses.  Both illnesses are also initially carried by birds but spread to humans by mosquitos who feed on both.

Gary Meffe is an ecologist and conservation biologist who heads up the Insect Control District for Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury and Goshen.  Meffe says that while mosquitos have definitely begun biting, they’re more of a nuisance at this time of year than a health threat.   “For either disease,” Meffe says, “it takes a while for the virus to build it’s population to a high enough level where you get potential transmission from mosquitos to humans”.  

And he says that won’t happen until July or August.  Even then, he says, the chance of  getting either West Nile or Triple E is incredibly slight.  

But considering last year, Meffe says locally, they’re trying to be more vigilant - and have already begun spraying insecticide for both for larvae and adult mosquitos.  “The week of Memorial Day we treated 924 acres in the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury area,” says Meffe.  “ We monitor adults and larvae all the time.  We respond to phone calls as people bring mosquito complaints to us and try to follow up as quickly as we can and get areas sprayed.”   And Meffe says,” it will be an ongoing process all summer.”

Patsy Kelso, an epidemiologist for infectious diseases with the Vermont Department of Health, says the state will ramp up mosquito testing in Rutland and Addison counties beginning this month. 

She says the state would like to expand that testing, but is limited because of the cost as the process is incredibly labor intensive.   “It involves physically going out and individually setting mosquito traps of different types in the woods, in communities, in swampy areas.   Leaving them overnight then going back the next morning to collect them.”  

Back in the lab, Kelso says each mosquito must be identified one at a time under a microscope and sorted by species into separate vials.   The vials are then sent to a lab where they’re tested for virus.   “Yeah, it’s really labor intensive,” says Kelso, “and that’s why we simply can’t be everywhere in Vermont trapping and testing mosquitos but we’ll focus our activities on areas that had eastern activity last year.”

While the state has allocated additional money for the testing, Patsy Kelso says federal funding has been declining which is troubling. 

Besides data from mosquitos, the state also gathered blood samples from about 300 area residents to test for antibodies to Triple E.   Kelso says the results have not yet come back, but she says the data will help the state learn how often people may get infected with the virus yet have no symptoms or only have a mild illness that may not even be recognized.

Meantime, both she and Gary Meffe says people should take common sense precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites - using bug spray with DEET, covering up when they’re outside and when possible avoiding being out between dusk and dawn when mosquitos are most active.  

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