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

State Explains Plan To Combat Mosquito-borne Virus

VPR/Nina Keck

Nearly 100 people met in Brandon Wednesday evening to hear how the state plans to fight Equine Encephalitis or EEE - the mosquito borne illness that caused two deaths in Rutland County last year.

State Health Commissioner Harry Chen said those tragic deaths ushered in a new reality in Vermont that the state is taking very seriously.

“I think it was vitally important for us to come back here,” said Chen, “and show you what we’ve done throughout the winter in terms of planning, in terms of building resources and capabilities to better address that new reality.”

State Epidemiologist Erica Berl said once EEE is identified in a particular area, it’s more likely to show up there again which is why towns around Brandon are at higher risk than other parts of Vermont.

She said that’s also why it’s the only part of the state undergoing costly mosquito testing - testing which so far has shown no virus.

But the disease is rare and there’s little data on how it behaves in Vermont.   Berl said that makes it difficult for health officials to identify where the risk is greatest.

Given the risk and the wet weather,  Pittsford resident Cathy Rider wanted to know why the state was not being more proactive.

“What constitutes a risk?  Do you want people to die?” asked Rider.  “I mean what does it take for you people to spray?”

“For every person who wants us to spray, there’s another one who doesn’t - who didn’t want us to spray last year in response to illness,” Berl answered.  “So it’s balancing risk, it’s balancing what the public wants and you know both sides are legitimate.”

Berl said the state will conduct aerial spraying only if EEE is found and health officials agree it’s warranted.  She said the state health department will also provide more comprehensive information on mosquito testing and any spraying on their website.

Lesley Wright, an organic farmer in Leicester, says she’s concerned about EEE like everyone else.  But she said she’s glad the state is taking a more conservative approach on spraying.   “Very moderated, carefully studied sprays that they might do later in response to a risk.  I don’t feel any problem with that at all,” said Wright, “I feel that that’s health based.”

But the frequent spraying for recreational and economic reasons by the local mosquito control district - that, Wright said, she finds far more troubling.

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