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Virginia and Texas Towns Find Alternatives for West Nile Virus Control
(Beyond Pesticides, June 12, 2003)
As the mosquito season gets underway, York County, Virginia and Dallas, Texas have adopted mosquito management approaches that rely less on hazardous pesticides that have adverse effects on people and the environment.

In York County, Virginia, officials are distributing fish that eat mosquito larvae and pupae to residents in order to decrease pesticides used for mosquito control, according to The Virginia Gazette. Several thousand of these fish, Gambusia holbrooki, or mosquito fish, have been bred by the county's fishery, the only one in the state to undertake such an endeavor as part of its mosquito prevention program. So far, county officials have provided 50 to 60 fish to residents and stocked retention ponds and other areas with standing water large enough for the fish to survive.

York County has problems with excessive amounts of standing water and floods throughout its communities and marshes and there is an increased concern due to the greater than average amount of rainfall the county has received this year, making it a prime area for mosquito populations to explode. In order to control mosquitoes that breed in small containers such as birdbaths, old tires, and buckets, local officials are sending out an information card to all its residents on the necessity of preventing mosquito breeding grounds. According to the newspaper, area birds have already tested positive for West Nile virus.

In Dallas, Texas, the City Council's Health, Environment and Human Services Committee recently adopted a mosquito control plan which calls for more public education and allows the use of pesticide sprays as a last resort and on the approval of the council members, "even if residents become severely ill," according to the Dallas Morning News.

Preventing mosquito breeding grounds and killing mosquito larvae with natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringenisis, is the heart of the new plan. A West Nile virus infected bird, mosquito, or horse is not a trigger to spray pesticides, but a trigger to increase outreach to community residents. The policy also establishes a city fine of up to $2,000 for any property owner who ignores stagnant water.

The City Council member who initiated a review of the city's control program was quoted in the paper saying, "There is a portion of the population that feels strongly that we should not use any pesticides or chemicals because, from their perspective, those [substances] were harmful to their health last summer."

The change in policy is largely due to the Concerned Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control, a group of local residents concerned about last year's city-wide pesticide spray program, which covered 71.7 square miles.

Beyond Pesticides recommends an integrated approach that includes community education, prevention, monitoring, habitat modification, biological controls and bacterial larvicides (see Beyond Pesticides' Public Health Mosquito Management Strategy. Also see Beyond Pesticides' article The Truth About West Nile Virus: Bad information and fear lead to dangerous responses, in the Spring 2003 issue of Pesticides and You. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' West Nile virus/Mosquito Management page.