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State to release plan to combat mosquito-borne diseases

BRANDON — In Brandon on Wednesday, the Vermont Department of Health will unveil its plan to combat mosquitoes and the serious illnesses they carry.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen, along with other officials from both the Heath Department and the Agency of Agriculture, will unveil the state’s 2013 Arbovirus Surveillance and Response Plan at a public meeting on Wednesday, July 10, from 5-7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall.
The update comes less than a year after the first two human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis in the state were detected locally. Scott Sgorbati, 47, of Sudbury was the first to contract the mosquito-borne disease in late July 2012, followed by Richard Breen, 87, of Brandon. Both men died from the disease.
The EEE virus is carried by a certain type of mosquito, the Culiseta Melanura, and is found in hardwood swamps in the Whiting and Brandon area. Over the past three years, it has been increasingly found in the state’s deer and moose populations. During the summer of 2011, EEE was responsible for the deaths of 17 emus on a farm in Brandon.
West Nile Virus, another arbovirus, was first detected in Vermont in 2000.
Health department officials say the plan is updated from the 2012 and the 2003 West Nile Virus Surveillance and Response Plans, and is based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and arbovirus surveillance plans in New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The 2013 plan outlines clear chains of command, communication and response depending on the threat level posed to public health when an arbovirus is detected in a mosquito pool. They involve state and local officials and swift dissemination of information to the general public.
“This plan allows the state and local government the flexibility to respond to local situations,” the plan states. “The goal … is to protect the public’s health from an outbreak of WNV or EEE virus. To accomplish this goal, emphasis will be placed on public information and education about the transmission of these viruses, elimination of mosquito breeding habitats, and personal preventative measures to prevent or reduce the risk of exposure.”
The good news is, the Legislature approved a $331,500 increase in the 2014 General Fund budget that can be used in this area. That’s over and above the original $140,000 budget for arbovirus surveillance, bring the total funding for mosquito control and surveillance to $471,500, plus $25,000 in anticipated funding from the Vermont Department of Health.
The newly budgeted amount includes an additional $175,000 in funding for local mosquito control districts, $89,500 for a vector coordinator to oversee specific areas of mosquito testing, and $144,000 for aerial spraying of adult mosquitoes should a public health risk be detected.
The threat to public health was such last summer that health officials decided to do an aerial spraying of pesticide, a move that concerned many area residents and organic farmers. Care was taken to avoid sensitive agricultural areas, and the 2013 plan addresses the seriousness of an aerial spray in the future.
“Widespread adult mosquito suppression programs will only be recommended to local officials as a last resort if surveillance data suggest an increasing and significant risk to human health,” the plan states.
While the areas of southern Addison and northern Rutland counties have perennially combated a large nuisance mosquito issue for decades, the presence of EEE has upped the ante. Despite the increase in state funding, it’s up to the state to use dwindling federal funding as creatively as possible to increase mosquito surveillance and testing to protect public health. Throughout the plan, there are references to the decrease in federal funding and it’s effect on the state’s arbovirus surveillance plans.
“A decrease in federal funding has limited the scope of vector surveillance in Vermont,” the plan states. “Recent reductions in funding mean that vector surveillance will be further limited, so efforts will be focused on detecting EEE virus, which was only recently documented in the state.”

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