As neighboring states turn to pesticide spraying programs to fight West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis, officials in Portland and other communities in southern Maine are weighing how to respond if it turns out that the viruses have spread to humans.

So far, only mosquitoes have been infected in Maine, according to reports for the state Center for Disease Control.

But concern is growing as the diseases make their way across Massachusetts and New Hampshire and those states turn to aggressive pesticide spraying programs to quell the viruses.

For now, Portland is concentrating on “information gathering,” spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Friday, as the state awaited word on two suspected human cases – one of West Nile and the other EEE – being tested by a federal laboratory of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are nowhere near spraying,” Clegg said. “Very informal … internal discussions” about how the city might respond are just beginning, and the city is looking to state health officials for an indication of the potential for human illness and guidance on how to protect residents.

“We have not had any discussions about spraying for West Nile,” said Marcel Blouin, director of parks and recreation in Sanford, near Lebanon in York County, where the West Nile virus was found in a mosquito from a monitoring pool last week. He said residents were “not panicking,” and that the general attitude was “to take a little more time to weigh and discuss” what to do.

As for widespread pesticide spraying, Blouin said, “That’s the last thing I’d suggest.”

The CDC did not return phone calls seeking its position on whether pesticide spraying should be conducted.

At this point, Clegg said, “the public education piece is huge.” She underscored that Maine’s Center for Disease Control urges people to take care to avoid being bitten by infected mosquitoes, which can transmit the diseases to humans, as well as birds, horses and other mammals.

There has never been a confirmed human case of West Nile or EEE in Maine, although both Massachusetts and New Hampshire recently reported cases of the viruses, and Massachusetts has used widespread pesticide spraying. New Hampshire public health officials this week recommended spraying in communities bordering the Bay State.

So far, spraying has been limited in Maine.

One licensed private pesticide application company, Atlantic Pest Solutions of Arundel, said Friday that it had responded to several requests from individual home owners to have properties sprayed, but no comprehensive spraying program has been adopted by entire communities.

“There’s been more activity in regard to individual households wanting yards done,” said biologist Sherrie Juris, mosquito and tick director for Atlantic Pest.

A number of entomologists and consumer watchdogs rejected the idea of widespread spraying.

“No, is that clear enough?” asked Charlene Donahue, president of the Maine Entomological Society in Augusta, when asked if municipalities should spray. Maine has not experienced that great a risk, she said, and the decision to use pesticides is more complicated than people realize, because the sprays also kill beneficial insects, such as bees.

Donahue suggested following the recommendations of the state CDC, which advocates that residents try to remain indoors during hours when mosquitoes are most active, from dusk till dawn. If people choose to go out, they are advised to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants and apply insect repellent.

Juris, the pest company biologist, who serves as a monitor at some of the state’s mosquito surveillance sites, agreed that such methods are prudent. “Have a heightened awareness,” she advised. “Keep doors closed, use screens on windows and doors and wear loose clothing” to make it more difficult for mosquitoes to penetrate.

If you decide to use a pesticide, she said, always read the label. “Make sure the pest you want (to affect) is on the label” and follow the directions carefully. If you opt for hiring a professional, take care to use only a knowledgeable, licensed professional. In instances where children live on the property or are in the area, call a pediatrician for advice.

Don’t panic or go overboard treating a problem that has not yet surfaced, she said.

On the other hand, she added, “we don’t want people to get a false sense of security. I mean, I don’t see a hard frost (which would kill mosquitoes) in the near future.”

 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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