Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment officials declared a state of public health emergency for Fort Collins and surrounding areas in response to the rapidly growing West Nile Virus epidemic at a press conference held on Tuesday.
“We have a higher rate than anyone expected,” said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, the Health Department Director for Larimer County.
The reason for declaring a state of emergency, according to LeBailly, is because the total number of West Nile cases in Larimer County have been doubling every week and the region is experiencing higher numbers of cases than Cook County, Ill., had at this time last year. Cook County reported the highest levels of West Nile cases than any other county in 2002.
In response to the state of emergency, the city of Fort Collins has implemented an adulticiding campaign in an attempt to curb the mosquito population in the city, according to Kelly DiMartino, the communication and public involvement coordinator for the city of Fort Collins.
“The city put together an integrating test management program. There are seven levels of activity that can occur (within the management program),” DiMartino said. “The top level, level seven, is a level where there is multiple human cases (of infection) and high numbers of Culex mosquito populations.”
The Culex mosquito count is important, according to DiMartino, because Culex mosquito’s are the type of mosquito that can potentially carry the virus.
“Not all mosquito’s carry or can potentially carry West Nile Virus,” DiMartino said.
The city started the adulticiding campaign on Wednesday, beginning with two trucks that sprayed different parts of the city from 8 p.m. to midnight, according to a press release from Fort Collins.
The end result of the spraying is not currently known, according to Tom Vosburg, the assistant city manager of Fort Collins.
“The effectiveness of mosquito spraying to control epidemics has been questioned in the past,” Vosburg said, “there is still a whole lot of data (that is not being analyzed)”.
However, according to Vosburg, the city is running out of options attempting to control the West Nile Virus epidemic and spraying is a last option.
Vosburg said, “There aren’t any tools left in the tool box. If spraying might work and save one human life you have to ask, ‘is it worth it?'”
Fort Collins City Council member for District 6 David Roy also believes that public health is the most important issue but feels differently about the city’s decision to spray.
“We need to be aware of the health and safety of the people of Fort Collins,” Roy said.
However, Roy is not sure if spraying is the answer to the epidemic hitting Fort Collins.
“I believe that spraying is going to satisfy the human capacity for a feeling of control,” Roy said.
According to Roy, the adulticide, or mosquito spray, is a non-discriminatory poison that kills all insects in its path.
“(The spray) is certainly extremely toxic to fish and bees and other insects,” Roy said. “It hasn’t been studied since 1984, so there just isn’t much known about it.”
Colorado Mosquito Control Inc. and Soper Pest Control are the two companies that have been contracted out by the city to administer the spray.
Mike Doyle, the northern Colorado program manager for Colorado Mosquito Control Inc., says the company has been operating in the region for many years.
“We have been running a program in Loveland for 15 years, and have been asked to help out with the problem in Fort Collins this summer,” Doyle said.
Doyle believes that spraying is affective in the fight against the mosquito problem, and can be seen in the number of mosquito’s they kill every day and throughout the season.
“It definitely makes a difference in the short-term. In Loveland we kill 700,000 mosquitoes in the water every day,” said Doyle adding, “so far this year we have killed 1.2 billion mosquitoes.”
CSU also contracted Colorado Mosquito Control Inc. and Doyle to conduct the two sprays that took place on campus last Monday and last Friday.
“(The spraying on campus) is a last resort and is done in conjunction with our other methods of mosquito control,” said Earlie Thomas, the director of environmental health services at CSU.
CSU has been taking many measures to try and curb the mosquito epidemic, which incorporate different types of control strategies.
“The Lagoon has been drained and we have also been larvaciding (since May) and using live traps,” Thomas said. “We have mosquito eating fish in the ponds and we are spraying as a last resort.”
Thomas admits that there could be some adverse health effects from the spray that was distributed around campus.
“If someone walked through the fog the spray droplets are so small they could cause an asthmatic or allergic reaction in some people,” Thomas said.
According to Thomas, proper precautions were taken at the times of the sprays on campus by having a lead truck ahead of the spray truck to radio any possible people who could have come in contact with the spray.
One aspect of the spraying that CSU is looking at is the possible positive affects the spray is having.
By setting up live traps and control groups across campus the university plans on studying the different measurements taken and possibly determine if CSU will spray next year if similar epidemics occur, Thomas said.