Allegan schools try to limit exposure to mosquito-borne virus

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

UPDATE: The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday, Sept. 27, it and local health departments would be using aerial spraying in "high risk areas" to uppress the spread of eastern equine encephalitis, including in Allegan County.

Spraying is scheduled to begin starting Sunday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. but is weather dependent.

A department press release said, "Aerial spraying is conducted by low-flying aircraft, beginning in the early evening and continuing up until 4:30 a.m. the next morning, in areas of concern. Mosquito control professionals will apply approved pesticides as an ultra-low volume spray. ULV sprayers dispense very fine aerosol droplets that stay suspended in the air and kill adult mosquitoes on contact. This is a tactic other states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have recently employed to combat EEE."

In a map provided by the state, the only Allegan County spraying will be conducted around Lake Doster east of Plainwell.

The pesticide, Merus 3.0, is an organic pesticide containing 5 percent pyrethrin.

"Pyrethrins are chemicals found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers," according to the department. "They are a mixture of six chemicals that are toxic to insects. Pyrethrins are commonly used to control mosquitoes, fleas, flies, moths, ants and many other pests. Pyrethrins have been registered for use in pesticides since the 1950s."

The nighttime spraying is timed for when mosquitos are more active, fish are less likely to be at the surface feeding and honeybees are most likely to be in their hives.

"However, owners should cover small ornamental fishponds during the night of spraying. While it is not necessary to bring animals indoors during spraying, concerned pet owners can bring animals inside during spraying," the department said. "In general, health risks are not expected during or after spraying. No special precautions are recommended; however, residents and individuals who have known sensitivities to pyrethrins can reduce potential for exposure by staying indoors during spraying. Aerial spraying is not expected to have any impacts on surface water or drinking water."

Additional information about aerial spraying is available in a Frequently Asked Questions document at www.Michigan.gov/EEE.

As of Sept. 27, EEE has been confirmed in nine people, with three fatalities, in Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

 

ORIGINAL STORY: Allegan Public Schools is moving up evening event start times when possible in an effort to help stop the spread of a rare, mosquito-borne virus called eastern equine encephalitis.

Last week, school officials notified parents the district would follow state health department recommendations.

“Although Allegan County is not currently on the state’s list, APS is taking necessary precautions,” said district superintendent James Antoine, “including 1) moving the event start times up where possible and 2) encouraging the use of insect repellents with DEET.”

State and local health officials sounded the alarm last week after several cases of eastern equine encephalitis were reported in eight Michigan counties, including nearby Van Buren, Cass, Berrien, and Kalamazoo.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced its recommendations to prevent the virus’ spread early last week, after four additional cases were confirmed in southwest Michigan, including two that were fatal.

The Allegan County Health Department said there had been no confirmed cases in humans or horses as of last week.

Lindsay Maunz, the health department’s public information officer, said infections can happen even when mosquito bite numbers are low.

“As fall approaches, mosquitoes stay active until the first hard frost of the year,” she said.

 

Tips

The school district and health department echoed state recommendations for avoiding contracting the disease:

• Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET to exposed skin.

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites.

• Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside.

• Empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs.

• Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

For the counties with human and cases, the state advised them to consider postponing, rescheduling or canceling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, “out of an abundance of caution.”

Though Allegan County has not yet had a case this year, it did have one confirmed case of eastern equine encephalitis last year, the only one in the state.

Maunz  said, “No deaths were associated with the case. Besides that, we have not had any confirmed cases since 2007,” which are as far back as the department’s records show.

The likelihood of it spreading to Allegan County this year is unknown.

“It is hard to answer this since we don’t have the tools or technology to predict the spread of vector-borne diseases, like EEE,” she said. “We are following what is happening within the state and encourage residents to practice mosquito prevention tips.”

The Allegan County Health Department has not recommended cancellation of evening events or activities.

 

Dangerous

Those younger than age 15 and over age 50 are at greatest risk of severe disease if infected with the dangerous virus.

The state’s press release said, “Signs of EEE include the sudden onset of fever, chills, body and joint aches that can progress to a severe encephalitis, resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. Permanent brain damage, coma and death may also occur in some cases.

“Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit their physician’s office.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Only a few cases are reported in the United States each year. Most occur in eastern or Gulf Coast states. Approximately 30 percent of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems.”

For more information on EEE and other mosquito-borne diseases, visit www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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