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Summer School's in Session: Covering West Nile Virus

Summer School's in Session: Covering West Nile Virus

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

West Nile virus sign

Ah, summertime. The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing and the mosquitoes are biting. Yep, it's time for the annual West Nile virus story! Here are some tips and resources for covering this important public health issue without sounding like a public service announcement.

1. Lessons learned. What did your local public health officials and vector control folks learn from last year? What are they predicting this year? Have recent weather patterns prompted predictions of a more severe West Nile virus season in your region, as they have in Northern California?

2. Focus on pesticide use. Spraying mosquito-killing pesticides in populated areas to control the virus' spread is increasingly controversial. Ask public health officials and your local hospitals about reports of health effects from last year's spray campaigns. Advocacy groups like No Spray say the pesticides do more harm than good. Pesticide industry groups are fighting back with their own online messages. How active is this debate in your community, and what does the science say? If you have large non-English speaking communities in your region, are they being adequately informed of spraying activities?

3. Follow the money – and the budget cuts. With many public health and vector control agencies cutting back on staff, particularly in California, will there be enough inspectors and lab workers to monitor mosquito populations and track disease? How much does spraying in your community cost? Researchers estimated the total economic impact from a season of West Nile virus in Sacramento, Calif. at nearly $3 million and found that the cost of spraying was justified if it prevented just 15 new cases of the disease.

4. Follow the foreclosures. A 2008 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases linked an explosive rise in foreclosures  in Bakersfield, Calif. to a near-tripling of West Nile virus cases in one season. Vector control officials often target high-foreclosure neighborhoods for spraying because of neglected pools – where are those neighborhoods in your community?

Resources:

ReportingonHealth's West Nile Virus Reporting Resources

HHS: Enviro-Health Links - Pesticides Used to Control West Nile Virus

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Malathion

Economic Cost Analysis of West Nile Virus Outbreak, Sacramento County

Delinquent Mortgages, Neglected Swimming Pools, and West Nile Virus, Calif.

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