It is the responsibility of public health agencies to educate citizens about health problems that can have an effect on their health and environment. I know many citizens have been concerned about the current news about West Nile Virus affecting us not only here in Pittsfield but in every state in the country. The CDC reports the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases since it was first detected in the United States in 1999. We as public health advocates must educate the public about decisions that are made to protect health.
The Pittsfield Board of Health has always taken seriously any use of chemicals to combat insects especially mosquitoes. We took a stand two years ago when it was proposed that spraying be done for "nuisance" reasons. Our opposition was because of the awareness of the effect on the environment.
Although pyrethrins (commercially known as Duet) are the least toxic of the insecticides they are not without risk. At this time we are dealing with more than nuisance mosquitoes. As with all public health issues, we must weigh the risks and benefits to spraying. The continuous positive tests revealing not only the presence of West Nile Virus (WNV) but Eastern Equine Encephalitis) raises our decision making about spraying. Having a confirmed case of WNV here in Pittsfield is concerning but should not cause hysteria.
We want to take this opportunity to educate the public on this important issue. Here are some
* Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.
* Mosquito control via spraying won't get rid of every last mosquito. The insecticide kills the adult mosquitoes and is effective for about 72 hours. When you also use repellents, you can markedly reduce your chances of getting bitten. It is our opinion that spraying the entire city will not eliminate the risk and could cause more harm to the environment.
* Control what you can. Improve your odds of avoiding mosquito spread viruses by using a repellent on exposed skin and clothes while outdoors. Remove the stagnant water areas in your yard. This really helps to reduce the breeding of insects.
* WNV and EEE are not spread through casual contact such as touching or kissing a person with the virus.
* If you are in the presence of someone who looks and feels like they have the flu or seem to be having difficulty thinking, help them to seek medical attention. Pay particular attention to individuals over 50 and those with chronic illnesses.
* If you see a dead bird in your neighborhood, please contact the health department. Do not touch it or move it.
The writer is chairman, Pittsfield Board of Health.