EDITORIAL: West Nile Virus: Epidemic or case for concern?

By Stephanie Sokol

The skies grow cloudy; the air becomes thick. Breathing becomes troublesome. An aircraft has dropped chemicals in the air near your home, in attempt to save the population from a potentially fatal disease.

With 112 confirmed cases of the West Nile Virus as of Aug. 31 in the state of Michigan and three of those leading to death, we are facing an epidemic.

The Center for Disease Control defines outbreaks and epidemics as “more cases of a particular disease than expected in a given area, or among a specific group of people, over a particular period of time.”

While we wouldn’t expect an area to have anyone affected by West Nile, the number of cases isn’t extremely high and usually only leads to flu-like symptoms, according to the Huffington Post. Most people affected by West Nile are age 70 and older, though there are exceptions, according to the CDC.

I’m not making light of the situation. Diseases that spread so easily and are potentially deadly are a serious issue. People should take caution when spending time outside by utilizing bug blocks like sprays and lotions.

But many areas, from Dallas, Texas to Sacramento County, Calif. and even local areas around the state seem to be taking it a little too far.

What started out as on-ground insecticides applied to swampy areas grew to a more widespread application that spreads into the air we breathe. More and more cities are performing aerial spraying and larviciding, which is the process of dropping chemicals from aircrafts in effort to exterminate the bugs.

According to the website www.fightthebite.net, part of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District, the goal of these sprayings is “to quickly reduce the number of adult mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus which can become a threat to public health,” seeing as the risk factor for the virus has been increasing.

These treatment sprays are said by the FDA to be safe for most people. However, they explain that “for some people, short-term exposure at low levels may exacerbate existing respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma) or cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat or lungs. For these reasons, individuals should consider taking steps to minimize their exposure risk to sumithrin (the repellent chemical) if it is applied to control mosquitoes.”

Physicians recommend to those with asthma and respiratory issues to leave the city they live in during the exterminations, as these sprays can lead to respiratory and breathing problems for young people and children.

If the sprayings were done infrequently, it might not be as much of an issue. But the treatments need to be done often to make a difference and stop the bugs from breeding, with precipitation cancelling out the efforts. How can the government suggest that families pack up and leave town so frequently?

It’s up to the individuals to take charge of their own lives. Applying safe bug sprays in moderation, as well as keeping themselves and their children covered or inside when mosquitoes are prevalent are the best steps to take, rather than having the government cause harm to people.

Aerial spraying may be a future consideration, if more research is done on the subject and the problem continues to grow worse. But for now, the spraying needs to stop before it leads to another epidemic.