INSECTS: Officials Increase Protections Against Disease
Health officials across the country are beefing up protections against infections caused by the "bugs of summer." At the top of many state agendas is mosquito control to ward off the West Nile Virus, a form of encephalitis. The disease had never occurred in the Western Hemisphere until last year's outbreak in New York. Now, officials all along the east coast are looking for larvae and "dumping larvicides." New York is using $7 million in state and federal grants to begin testing and surveillance of mosquitoes and birds. Pennsylvania also plans to spend almost $10 million in viral tracking and prevention. And the CDC has awarded 18 states, including Massachusetts, Texas and the District of Columbia, with $2.7 million in funds for "development of better surveillance and response programs that focus on West Nile Virus." California has also stepped up efforts to test mosquitoes for the West Nile Virus. Although there are no indications that the virus has moved that far west, Vicki Kramer, chief of the state's Vector-Borne Disease Section, said California's "conditions here are just as suitable as New York. We have the appropriate vector (mosquito), the appropriate climate. People travel. Birds can fly. I'm not saying it's likely, but it's important to expand the surveillance network."
Health officials are also on the look out for ticks that cause Lyme disease, babesiosis and ehrilichiosis. If not treated early, Lyme disease can lead to persistent health complications. Because there is no effective means of controlling or eradicating the ticks, officials are focusing on public education and preventing animals, such as deer and mice, from becoming infected. Texas officials are focusing their efforts on the mosquito that causes dengue fever. The "tropical menace" crossed the border from Mexico and led to the worst outbreak in 20 years in 1999. Thus in an effort to get organized, they are beefing up mosquito control and surveillance and are engaging in discussions with border control. Public health experts have been warning for years that increased global commerce and travel would eventually lead to the emergence of "new bugs and new health menaces" in the United States. Steve Ostroff of the CDC said, "We live in an era of emerging infections. Our task is to assure that the public health system is as well prepared as possible to deal with them" (Manning, USA Today, 4/13).