Chairman’s Update – Oswego County Steps Up the Battle to ‘Fight The Bite’

By Fred Beardsley,
Chairman, Oswego County Legislature

Over the past 40 years, there have been five fatal human cases of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus in Central New York. Two of those cases occurred in Oswego County in the last three years.

With summer soon upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the steps that the county health department is taking to prepare for the upcoming EEE season.

As part of a long-term surveillance program, our staff collects samples of mosquitoes from a number of trap sites around the county. Most traps are set in and near hardwood swamp areas because they are a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, especially the “Culiseta melanura” mosquito, the main carrier of EEE. Toad Harbor and Big Bay swamp areas are usually the first place EEE appears each summer; however, last year it appeared in a few places around the county at the same time.

This year, full-scale surveillance will begin the week of May 28. Due to the high level of virus activity the last few years and considering this year’s unusual winter and early spring, we have doubled the number of mosquito trap sites over a greater range within the county. The NYS Department of Health laboratory has also increased the number of mosquito samples that we are allowed to submit for testing.

Once captured, mosquitoes are identified and grouped by species, gender, and whether or not they have ingested blood. The collection or “pool” of mosquitoes is then sent to the NYS Department of Health laboratory near Albany for testing that same week. The results are usually received one week later.

This year, we will add a new component to our surveillance program.

The Mark-Release-Recapture (MRR) Project involves trapping adult mosquitoes and marking them with a fluorescent powder.

They are then released with the intent of re-capturing them later on in traps located in our county and in neighboring counties. Health officials from nearby counties will participate in the re-capturing and identification process.

The MRR project is important because it will give us more precise information about when, where and how quickly mosquitoes travel as they migrate from the Toad Harbor and Big Bay Swamp area. This information will help us in our understanding of mosquito movement and our decision-making about the timing of mosquito control activities, such as aerial spraying.

Some people wonder why it is necessary to spray for mosquitoes, while others ask why we don’t spray every year. The decision of whether or not to spray is not made lightly. We look at a variety of factors including the numbers and species of mosquitoes, infection rate and site locations, weather conditions and time of year, as well as the history and scientific data about the virus.

Throughout the decision-making process, we constantly consult with the New York State Department of Health.

The EEE virus is one of the most serious mosquito-borne diseases. It rarely affects humans; however, when it does, the virus can cause a serious infection or even death.

The best defense we have against the virus is to guard against mosquito bites. Protect yourself and your family by limiting outside activities from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are more active.

If you have to be outside or in areas with mosquitoes, wear shoes, socks, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts as the weather permits. Also, be sure to use the appropriate insect repellent according to the directions on the label.

You can also reduce mosquito populations around your home and yard by eliminating or minimizing standing water. Empty or drain pails, flower pots, wheelbarrows, wading pools and pool covers. Drill holes in recycling containers, clear roof gutters, dispose of old tires, and change the water in bird baths and horse troughs twice a week to discourage mosquito breeding. Also, repair or replace broken or torn window and door screens to keep mosquitoes from entering your home.

We all want to protect our families and children. To that end, we are working in conjunction with New York State and neighboring counties to promote public education about EEE. By using this regional approach, we can reach a larger audience and increase awareness about mosquito surveillance, control and personal protection measures.

In addition to participating in this campaign, New York State approved a request by Senator Patty Ritchie to include a $150,000 grant for EEE in its budget this year. The money has been allocated to the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and may be used to reimburse counties for aerial spraying over state lands, distribution of mosquito larvicide products, and horse vaccinations.

These are all important steps in the battle against EEE. I would like to commend the diligent efforts of our county health department along with regional and state agencies. I would also like to remind my fellow citizens to be thorough in their personal protection practices and enjoy a safe and pleasant summer here in Oswego County!