West Nile virus found in Springfield, VT

Five mosquito pools in Springfield tested positive for West Nile virus last week as the state faces an appeal on a decision that allows chemicals to be sprayed.

The appeal was filed last Thursday by The Toxics Action Center in Boston and Vermont Law School after the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation granted a Pesticide General Permit on May 15 to spray chemicals in the Rutland area. 

The appeal says spraying impacts beekeepers, organic farmers, hikers and other individuals.

“Pesticides are the only thing we spray into the air to intentionally kill something,” said Toxins Center Vermont State Director Shaina Kasper. 

The state granted the permit to the BLSG District, which includes the towns of Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen and Pittsford. BLSG is one of two districts where mosquito control is allowed in the state. The other, called Lemon Fair Insect Control District, includes the towns of Bridport, Cornwall and Weybridge.

Insecticides are sprayed by helicopter over 6,000 acres of swampland once or twice a year in the BLSG District. Both districts use larvicides, and the operation is funded by the state. The BLSG district uses adulticides, and this funded by the towns.

William Mathis, who represents the BLSG District, said the district has been spraying for the past 30 years. He said larviciding is effective; it does reduce the mosquito population, but it is not always effective.

“In these cases, adulticides are the fastest and most effective means of knocking back a new hatch,” said Mathis in a recent op-ed. Mathis is the managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and is the former superintendent of schools for the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union in Brandon, Vermont. 

He was concerned about the recent tests in Springfield, pointing to risk factors from West Nile virus. Springfield is the first town to see West Nile virus so far this year. 

“It’s pretty widespread throughout the state,” said Natalie Kwit, the state’s public health veterinarian.

The state tested 243 mosquito pools in 59 towns last week. Though it’s unclear why Springfield was the first town to test positive for West Nile this year, Kwit said the recent period of heavy rain in the region could be a factor.

Rain can create a “breeding ground” for mosquitoes, she said.

Most of the people infected don’t show symptoms of West Nile, which is spread by mosquito bites. Only 1 percent of those infected become seriously ill.

Eleven people in Vermont have been infected with West Nile virus since 2011. There were three infected last year — two in Grand Isle County and one in Addison County. 

Symptoms include fever, headache, joint pain, disorientation, vision loss and paralysis. 

Mosquitos in Springfield last tested positive for West Nile in September 2017. 

West Nile has also been found in New Hampshire. The state of New Hampshire tested about 4,000 batches of mosquitoes for West Nile last year. Of those, nine tested positive in eight towns. Two pools tested positive in Manchester, one tested positive in Keene, one in Nashua and one each in Rye, Brentwood, Madbury, East Kingston and Danville.

Ten human cases of West Nile have been reported so far in the country this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nine cases are in California and one is in North Dakota. 

While the control of mosquitoes is debated, Kwit urged people to wear long sleeves and pants when outside. She said to remove any standing water near a home and to wear mosquito repellent registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We want people to protect themselves in every town in Vermont,” Kwit said.

-- Katy Savage
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