GRAFTON, Mass. - TheDailyVoice.com accepts letters to the editor. Signed letters may be emailed to email@example.com.
To the Editor:
Article 27 of Monday's warrant seeks Town support for joining the Central Mass Mosquito Project. As a public health researcher, I urge Grafton residents to vote yes. Communities surrounding Grafton were determined to be at high risk for West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis this summer due to CMMCP mosquito surveillance. All indications are that risk of mosquito borne infection will increasingly be part of our everyday summer landscape from now on. CMMCP provides services that help to reduce a community's risk of mosquito borne infection, and works closely with the Board of Health to respond quickly when risk levels become critical.
Today's mosquito control is not the same operation that your parents knew, when the truck would come by every week and spray a smelly chemical on all the streets and dead insects would be all over the place. Practices and procedures have greatly changed. The overall emphasis is to prevent as opposed to react. Hence, modern mosquito control relies on public education; identifying and mitigating sources of breeding through habitat management (source reduction and wetlands restoration);surveillance for virus-infected mosquitoes; larviciding (killing mosquito larvae, particularly within catch basins and permanent stagnant bodies of water); research (checking for efficacy of treatment methods or insecticide resistance); and adulticiding ("spraying"). Sadly, mosquito control is still caricatured as mere spraying of toxic chemicals. Spraying, however, is only at the request of a resident around their homes and only after assessing the property and educating the homeowner on source reduction (emptying containers and other breeding sites). Spraying may also be done on a wider scale in town when surveillance indicates great risk of arboviral infection, and then only in consultation with and agreement of the Board of Health. Pesticides that are used today are highly effective synthetic versions of chrysanthemum-derived chemicals (natural pyrethrins, synthetic pyrethroids) with low toxicity to mammals and rapid breakdown in the environment. (These pesticides are widely available at Home Depot and other stores for use, often indiscriminately, by homeowners for control of lawn, home and garden pests.) Pyrethroids are the active ingredients in head louse shampoo as well as topical tick and flea treatments for dogs. When applied for mosquito control, EPA mandates use only after dusk and before dawn to prevent affecting pollinator insects such as honeybees. If spraying is needed, very small amounts, about two ounces per acre are applied by a precisely engineered, computer controlled mister. For those who want more information on modern mosquito control, please take a look at CMMCP's website (www.cmmcp.org).
Although WNV and EEE are rare infections, they may have great consequences. EEE is perhaps the most dangerous virus endemic to North America, with a case fatality rate of 30-50% and severe permanent neurological damage for those who survive. Children, in particular, are at high risk of severe disease. The fear that develops in a community when there is a human case reduces the quality of life for all. We live in a town like Grafton so that we may enjoy our yards and woods. In the absence of specific information on risk or an active preemptive program of mosquito control, outdoor activities are curtailed. Evening team sports or other events may be disrupted as a precautionary measure. With specific education about and use of personal protective measures, cleanup of breeding sites, preventive larviciding, and as a last resort, spraying, risk for mosquito transmitted infection can be greatly reduced.
Sam R. Telford III, ScD
Professor of Infectious Diseases, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
and commissioner, Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project