Mosquito control ain't what it used to be
July 14, 2005 The Stratford Star
By Karen Sportini, Correspondent
People who've grown up in Stratford remember bygone days when the mosquito control truck would drive through their neighborhoods much the same way as the ice cream truck did. The truck attracted children, who would often ride their bikes through the clouds of insecticide it left behind.
Those days are gone, according to Elaine O'Keefe, Director of the Stratford Health Department.
"We would never apply pesticides today like we did 20 years ago," she explained. "We now know of their potential dangers."
In fact, Stratford has a sophisticated mosquito control program in place, O'Keefe said.
Originally, the program was the responsibility of the Parks Department, but by the late 1980s, Stratford took another look at the program and made some important changes.
While the former program was intended to address nuisance mosquitoes, it became necessary to look at mosquitoes that might be carriers of mosquito-borne illnesses. "Of these," O'Keefe said, "West Nile has been the dominant concern."
One of the most important changes was the town's decision to stop using toxic chemicals. Improvements made the program more efficient, and it was placed under the Environmental Conservation Department.
Other town departments involved in mosquito control are the Health Department, whose responsibilities include education and prevention, and on some occasions, the Public Works Department.
"We focus on the entire town," said Bill McCann, director of the Environmental Conservation Department, "but there are definitely areas where the mosquitoes are more fertile."
The program is locally funded and costs about $2,500 for chemicals alone.
The treatment consists of spraying a non-toxic larvicide in mosquito breeding areas, including the town's catch basins, marshes, and parks.
"The goal this year is to treat every one of the town's catch basins, of which there are up to 5,000, at least once," O'Keefe said.
Town residents are asked to maintain due diligence when it comes to removing standing water, prime breeding ground, for mosquitoes around their homes.
Stratford is also is a center for an important mosquito control program by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, one of only a few such sites in the state, at Beacon Point at the end of Birdseye Street.
Dr. John Anderson, who works at the site and is formerly the state's chief entomologist, or bug expert, is researching those species of mosquitoes that pose the greatest threat of passing West Nile Virus to humans.
"Research conducted here has been a real asset to the town," O'Keefe said. "Fortunately, there was not a single case of West Nile Virus in a human being in Connecticut last year. One person in the state was infected, but it is believed that this person contracted the illness out of state."
The mosquito control program runs for six to seven months each year.
"We've worked with the DEP during the dormant months, though, concentrating on known breeding areas," McCann said. "We've done things such as change the water drainage patterns."
Planning for the summer season begins as early as April at which time the relevant town departments meet to discuss the upcoming season. The program is well thought out, with sites of concern identified in advance of treatment.
Another procedure employed by mosquito-control personnel that ensures effective use of the larvicide is "dip-stick" testing, which helps determine whether mosquito larvae are present in a certain area.
The town has employed a garlic-based mosquito repellent in recent years. This natural substance has been sprayed on areas such as fields prior to graduation ceremonies.
McCann is quick to point out, however, that, "We will continue to use this product sparingly, but it will not be a substitute for the measures already in place."
Although there have been a number of mosquitoes trapped in Stratford that carry the West Nile Virus, O'Keefe attributes the lack of human cases, at least in part, to the comprehensive control program and improved awareness.
An updated version of a West Nile Virus informational brochure can be obtained at, www.townofstratford.com/health. Currently available in English, it soon will be available in Spanish as well.
©Stratford Star 2005