New era, new diseases

Wednesday August 22, 2012

The West Nile virus is a tropical disease that came out of Uganda 13 years ago. Berkshire County, sections of which will be sprayed for the virus and Eastern equine encephalitis today through next Tuesday, is a long way from the tropics. So is Dallas, where 10 people have died this summer during an outbreak of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. With climate change fueled by global warming, however, the tropics are slowly coming to us with all that entails.

The Northeast was protected for de cades from many insects and the viruses they harbor by the frigid winters, but the milder winters of recent years have made the region more hospitable to unwelcome visitors. They are able to make it to spring and the wet weather conducive to their spread. Lyme disease and West Nile virus are products of this new reality.

The Berkshire Mosquito Control Pro ject will spray the chemical spray Duet in parts of Pittsfield and five other Berk shire communities, Sheffield, Stock bridge, Tyringham, Hinsdale and Otis. Baby boomers of a certain age will remember riding their bicycles through the mosquito spray unleashed by chemical trucks but this is not the same spray, nor is it of the same dosage. Never theless it is a chemical, and residents in the areas to be sprayed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. are advised to close windows and doors, turn off fans and air conditioners and bring in laundry hanging from clotheslines.

With the arrival of autumn and cooler temperatures the mosquitoes will disappear and the virus with it, but a problem that is now with us will not go away forever. In anticipation of next spring and summer, preventive measures should be considered, such as the application of the larvacide Bti, which has been effective in killing mosquito larva in breeding areas before they hatch. With climate change upon us and little or no political will to address it, states and the communities within them will have to address the repercussions on the ground level.


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