State to stop testing mosquitoes for West Nile virus

Ohio decides not to test because of federal funding cut

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published:

Now that the Ohio Department of Health has stopped testing mosquitoes for West Nile Virus because of a federal funding cut, the health departments for Summit and Portage counties are considering how they'll handle testing the insects this year.

The state health department had been paying $265,000 a year from its budget for the testing.

Mosquito testing varies among local public health agencies in Ohio. Like many, Summit County and Portage County Health Department had no testing programs of their own, but trapped mosquitoes and sent them to Columbus for testing for free by the ODH.

Terry Tuttle, environmental health supervisor for the Summit County Health Department, said the department has three options: handling the testing in house, sending the mosquitoes out of state to a private company for testing or not testing at all.

He said sending trapped mosquitoes to a private company would be five times as expensive as doing it in house. For that reason, he said this option isn't being considered.

He also said shifting trapping and testing to individual municipalities in the county hasn't been discussed or considered.

But even if Summit County does the testing itself, it still would be expensive. Tuttle said he doesn't know at this time how much it would cost because it would depend on when the trapping would start.

"If we decide to test them ourselves that means now we have the financial burden of testing. What are we going to cut back on to pay for the testing? An example of that could be spraying," he said. "If we decide to test ourselves, we might just spot spray where we find positives. I don't see us spraying entire communities anymore. We can only do what we can do with our budget confinement."

If the county decides not to test, it would continue to trap the insects to determine if there are spikes in population counts of the female Culex mosquito, the kind that carry West Nile Virus.

Because not testing leads to spraying based only on population counts, the county also would review historical data for areas that previously have had positive tests for the virus.

"I would feel a lot more comfortable if we were able to test," Tuttle said.

The county would then spray the areas where the populations have spiked, he said.

In 2012, 26 local health departments submitted more than 187,000 mosquitoes to the state, and the virus was detected in about 1,200 pools in 15 counties. About 120 human cases and seven deaths in Ohio were linked to the virus.

Two cases of West Nile Virus were reported to the county in 2012, Tuttle said.

Some infected people suffer minor symptoms, such as headache, but people over the age of 50 and those who have compromised immune systems or other health issues can suffer more severe symptoms, even death, Tuttle said.

Portage Health Commissioner DuWayne Porter has a different perspective about the testing and said it was "time for the program to end."

"West Nile virus is now endemic in Ohio," Porter said. Only one in 150 people who contract it show signs of any illness, he said. "So most of us who have West Nile virus will never show signs we've got it."

Tuttle said while the virus has been endemic for 10 years, it has been active in some places in Summit County some years and not in others.

Porter said people should still be taking "common sense measure to protect themselves" from mosquito-caused illnesses. Those include eliminating areas where mosquitoes can breed, such as water-filled tires or old swimming pools or fountains.

Porter also said Portage County proposed a larvacide program to stop mosquito larva from becoming adults, which involves putting a chemical into the water where they breed. He does not favor a spraying program.

"Those are ineffective unless done by helicopter. We feel we would have better results with a larvacide," Porter said.

Record-Courier reporter Mike Sever contributed to this report.

Email: hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9428

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