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Mosquito control takes a village

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For the first time this year, villagers are on the front lines of preventing West Nile virus in Yellow Springs. Specifically, local residents need to start looking for sources of standing water in their yards, in order to help eliminate mosquito breeding in the village.

“The community needs to take a role so we can eliminate backyard breeding,” said Vickie Hennessy of the Green Environmental Coalition (GEC) in an interview this week.

Villagers are urged to search their yards for any place that collects standing water, which means buckets, cans, old tires, clogged gutters, birdbaths, flower pots, tarps and holes in trees. If water sources are found, they should be removed, or the water poured out.

In March, Village Council, at the urging of the GEC, voted to contract with the Greene County Combined Health District for a mosquito control program based on eliminating mosquito breeding sites and using larvicide to kill insect larvae where found. This year’s approach is different than last year’s, when one village neighborhood was sprayed with the pesticide Anvil 2+2 after West Nile-infected mosquitos were found. At the time, many villagers became concerned about the health ramifications of pesticide spraying, and some opted out of the spraying.

Over the winter, GEC members met regularly with other community members concerned about the potential harmful effects of the Anvil 2+2 spray and possible alternative options, Hennessy said. The pesticide has been linked with both breast and prostate cancers and after spraying, it remains active after landing on plants, creating the potential for harm to both humans and pets.

In contrast, the larvacide is a naturally occurring bacteria that only kills mosquito larvae, and is not harmful to humans or pets, Hennessy said.

The GEC is working in coordination with Antioch College Biology Professor Savitha Krishna, who is spearheading a local mosquito control effort. According to Krishna in an interview this week, she comes to the effort after working for several years for a project aimed at controlling malaria and other insect-borne diseases in parts of southern India.

Krishna is in agreement with the GEC that controlling insect larvae is preferable to using potentially harmful pesticides.

“Spraying is the last resort,” she said. “If we can do larvae control, it’s always better.”

With help from an Antioch College student, Krishna as a first step has created a map of potential mosquito breeding sites in town, using Google Maps overlaid with maps from the health department. The sites are being monitored for the presence of larvae, which so far has been negative, according to Krishna. Monitoring will continue throughout the summer.

Krishna agrees that community involvement is key to a successful effort, as she and her helpers are not able to monitor mosquito breeding sites on private property unless a property owner makes a request. If villagers believe they know a potential source of mosquito breeding, they are encouraged to contact the GEC at 767-2109.

West Nile virus is a disease that in 2012 affected about 60 Ohioans, and caused two deaths in the state. However, according to the CDC, less than 1 percent of those bitten by a West Nile-infected mosquito will develop severe illness, 80 percent will develop no symptoms at all, and 20 percent could suffer from flu-like symptoms for several days.

Only a small number of Ohio municipalities have so far chosen to go the route of larvae control rather than pesticide spraying, Hennessy said. One of those is Cuyahoga County, which has successfully used the larvae control approach for the last eight years. If the approach seems to work in Yellow Springs, the GEC is interested in getting out the word about alternatives to pesticide spraying.

“Our hope is that if this goes well, we can start spreading the word to other areas,” Hennessy said.

The local GEC mosquito control effort is funded by a $3,500 grant from the Community Foundation and a $6,500 faculty development grant from Antioch College.

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