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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

Despite budget cuts, crews buzzing to fight mosquitoes

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With all of the barbecues and other outdoor festivities going on this weekend, getting pesky and potentially infection-spreading mosquitoes under control by the Fourth of July was a priority for the Toledo Area Sanitary District.

Yet spraying crews have made the rounds with insecticides across Lucas County only once this year, while normally they would have been through at least twice by now to combat the threat of West Nile virus.

With tax collections down, the district is trying to stretch a budget of less than $2.5 million, 15 percent to 20 percent less than the $2.9 million it expected this year.

"It's still early, and we'll just try to do the best we can," said

Lee Mitchell, biologist for the tax-funded district. "We just can't provide the same level this year," he added. "We're not going to get through the whole county as many times."

Formed in 1946, the district is Ohio's largest and one of just two comprehensive mosquito-control programs. The threat of West Nile virus, first detected in Ohio in 2001, has increased Lucas County's efforts to kill larvae and adult mosquitoes in recent years.

Residents with ornamental pools, water gardens, and other features on their properties can have the district deliver free "mosquitofish" that eat mosquitoes and other insects.

Lucas County's first human case of West Nile virus was reported on Sept. 17, 2002, and there were a dozen cases that year. Michigan and Ohio, respectively, had the second and third-highest number of West Nile virus cases nationwide in 2002, totaling 1,055 for both states.

Nationally, West Nile virus infected more than 1,300 and killed 44 people last year, but the number of cases in the region has plunged.

There were 15 human cases of West Nile virus in Ohio last year, including one death in Cuyahoga County, and 17 cases in Michigan, none fatal.

Locally, two human cases of West Nile virus each in Lucas and Lenawee counties were reported last year, as well as one in Ottawa County. No cases have been reported in either Ohio or Michigan this year.

Lucas County had four human cases of West Nile virus in the last two years, two of which were in Curtice, Mr. Mitchell said. The district, he said, is trying to figure out a better way to keep mosquitoes under control in Curtice, which is on the border with Ottawa County.

Mosquito-control efforts, meanwhile, vary outside of Lucas County.

While the Ottawa County Health Department instructs people to use mosquito repellent and take other precautions, there is no formal mosquito-control program countywide, said Nancy Osborn, health commissioner. She said some individual communities spray.

Wood County gives residents mosquito "dunks," which can be placed in standing water to prevent breeding, and it also has another larvicide employees use elsewhere in problem areas, said Brad Espen, environmental director for the Wood County Health Department.

Perrysburg is among communities with a spraying program for adult mosquitoes.

While the number of spraying crews being used to get rid of adult mosquitoes in Lucas County has been reduced from six to four, the district encourages residents to call if they encounter problems with mosquitoes, Mr. Mitchell said. Residents can call 419-726-7891 for spot spraying in accessible areas, including backyards, church lawns, or other gathering spots, or to kill larvae in standing water.

The year has been a wet one, both from melting snow and abundant rainfall, giving mosquitoes plenty of places to breed, Mr. Mitchell said. The district, however, does not plan to curtail individual requests for assistance with problem areas. Calls increased early last month but have abated with the cooler weather, he said.

"Like a lot of other people, we're just trying to do more with less this year," Mr. Mitchell said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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