Local leaders are struggling with the question of what to do to battle mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. The disease has now claimed one life in Onondaga County. YNN's Bill Carey says there is pressure to take bold action, but there are questions over just how effective that action might be.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- June 1944. D-Day. The beginning of the end of World War II. Vester Edge Jr. was there. He had fought his way across Europe. Survived to return home and raise a family.
He was 91 when he lost his last battle. Not on the epic scale of D-Day. But a battle against a virus carried by a mosquito.
Vester Edge's death came just as local leaders were gathering for a long planned summit on the annual battle against mosquito borne illnesses like Eastern Equine Encephalitis and the bug that killed Vester, West Nile virus. Health officials say the focus of the battle now is on safety steps taken by individuals.
“It's about educating people and, yes, the government has a role, but we really need people to use their sprays, to use common sense, to wear long sleeves and avoid prime feeding hours and make sure their screens are in good repair. And own this,” said Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Cynthia Morrow.
While the health department is calling on the public to take steps to protect itself from various viruses carried by mosquitoes, the recent death from West Nile virus has increased the pressure for the county itself to take further steps.
“Are we going to have to be reactive all the time or are we going to have a proactive approach?” asked Onondaga County Legislator William Meyer.
Meyer serves on the county legislature's health committee. He remembers a year ago when mosquitoes carrying West Nile were found in a creek near the state fairgrounds, just as the annual exhibition was due to open. The health department launched ground spraying. He wants to see similar steps taken now.
“We know we have a number of major events in this community. It's not just the state fair. We could have these vehicles out and about when these major events are coming, so it isn't just for them, but it's obviously going to protect the locals,” Meyer said.
Health officials are resisting the pressure, saying the spraying, this year, would have little impact.
“At this point, given how low our mosquito numbers are, it just is not effective to spray when there are so few flying mosquitoes,” Morrow said.
The family of Vester Edge is not so sure. They'd like to see massive spraying, even if it has limited effect. It took just one mosquito, they note, to take his life.
The local mosquito control summit was organized by the staff of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. He applauded efforts at the meeting to launch a new safety education campaign.