Forecast: Mosquito season to bring a bigger bite
Tough summer: EEE, West Nile virus may hit Connecticut hard as temperature rises
Published 12:45 pm, Thursday, June 9, 2011
In a weird twist of fate, Connecticut is expected to face one of its most intense mosquito seasons ever, just as the program in charge of trapping mosquitoes and testing them for potentially dangerous illnesses faces an uncertain future.
The heavy winter snowfall and strong spring rains have resulted in a bumper crop of mosquitoes in the state this year, said Theodore Andreadis, chief of medical entomology for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, which runs the state's mosquito trapping and testing program. Last week, he said, traps placed throughout the state ensnared 18,000 mosquitoes over three days. Last year at the same time, only about 6,500 of the pests were caught over that same time period. "This is going to be a very severe season," Andreadis said.
The purpose of mosquito trapping and testing is to assess risk levels for mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis. Thus far, none of the trapped mosquitoes have tested positive for either disease. However, given the high temperatures expected this week, Andreadis said it's possible West Nile could be detected in mosquitoes in the near future. Culex mosquitoes, which primarily carry West Nile, tend to thrive in the heat. Last summer, when a series of heat waves hit the state, was one of the toughest seasons for West Nile in years. West Nile-positive mosquitoes were trapped in 24 towns and there were 11 human cases (but no confirmed fatalities). The previous year, there were no human cases, and mosquitoes were trapped in 16 towns. Since 1999, there have been about 80 human cases of West Nile in Connecticut and three fatalities. Eastern equine encephalitis hasn't been as common in Connecticut. Outbreaks of EEE have occurred occasionally among horses and domestic pheasants since 1938, but no human cases have been confirmed.
As Andreadis braces for the buggy days ahead, the testing program faces some major funding woes. This year, he said, the program lost $500,000 in federal funding and saw its funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced from $300,000 to $100,000. Andreadis said the basic cost of the trapping and testing program -- not including the cost of running the laboratory where testing occurs -- is about $700,000 a year. That fee covers salaried employees, technical support staff and other basics. The state pays about $230,000 of the programs' costs, plus another $350,000 for the salaries of several employees, including Andreadis.
The $500,000 in federal funding lost by the trapping program would have gone to cover basic costs, whereas the CDC funds would have gone toward the basic costs. Andreadis said the program will get by this year without the federal money, but he's not sure what the future will hold. Sharon M. Douglas, chairwoman of the station's department of plant pathology and ecology, said it's possible that the drop in funding could severely affect the program down the road. "We're maybe going to have to cut back the mosquito surveillance program," she said.
There's also a slight chance that the entire Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station could be eliminated. If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Employes Bargaining Agent Coalition can't agree on concessions, the experiment station is one of many programs that could be cut to compensate. This alternative to the concessions has been dubbed "Plan B" and Douglas said, as of now, it doesn't appear that it will go into effect. However, nothing is certain yet.
"We still don't know," Douglas said. "If, for some reason, the concessions aren't ratified, where are they going to get those funds from?"
Aside from the mosquito-trapping program, the Agricultural Experiment Station is charged with a number of tasks, including studying plant diseases, soil testing and inspecting local plants that are sent out of state. Douglas said $7 million of state money goes to the Agricultural Experiment Station.
Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs in the state Office of Policy and Management, confirmed Plan B is off the table for now, but it all depends on whether the concessions are accepted. He expects the unions will vote soon on whether to accept the package.
The mosquito testing program's financial woes aren't a surprise, but they are a concern, said Randall Nelson, a senior epidemiologist for the Connecticut Department of Public Health. The department works with the Agricultural Experiment Station to inform the public about any mosquitoes or people who test positive for West Nile or EEE.
Nelson said funding is something that all sectors of public health grapple with. "It's something we're always concerned about, because it does fluctuate over time," Nelson said.
Like Andreadis, he doesn't think the federal cuts will affect this year's programs, but does worry about what will happen next year.
"We don't know what will happen," he said. "Obviously, if they can't trap and test mosquitoes, that affects our ability to craft a public health message."
Reach Amanda Cuda at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-330-6290. Follow at twitter.com/AmandaCuda.