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State-paid West Nile virus program cut

A state program to give advance warnings of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus will be discontinued and local health departments will have to pick up the tab, the Ohio Health Department said in a memo distributed to local health officials late last week.

The Zoonotic Disease Program at a state lab in Reynoldsburg tests insect samples sent from local health programs and also identifies ticks that carry lyme disease. It will be discontinued because federal funding has dried up, Theodore W. Wymyslo, Ohio Director of Health, said in an April 11 memo obtained by this newspaper.

Officials called 2012 one of the worst summers for the virus in the state and across the nation. Federal tallies by Dec. 11 showed 48 states reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 5,387 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 243 deaths, were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 121 Ohio cases reported and seven deaths.

Wymyslo said that despite a reduced budget, the state was able to continue the program last year using a stock of laboratory testing supplies. The outbreak exhausted those supplies, he added.

Combating disease outbreaks at the local level also includes community education, draining breeding pools, and spraying, Wymyslo’s memo noted. Local health officials should make use of a tick identification guide at the state’s health website, he said, and the state is considering hosting mosquito identification clinics. He recommended that local officials use outside labs for identification and testing services rather than try to do testing in-house.

Last year, testing in Montgomery County of 350 mosquito breeding grounds found that about a third held West Nile-carrying mosquitoes.

“While mosquito surveillance is a valuable part of (West Nile Virus) response planning, the federal government has cut funding to this area and ODH does not have other funds available to support this activity,” Wymyslo said.

Local county health officials said they’re trying to figure out how to respond to the move. Warren County Environmental Health Director Dennis Murray said the county will send a letter to the state asking officials to reconsider. The county, which recorded two West Nile cases in 2012, will continue treating stagnate water areas based on complaints.

Not all counties fund mosquito control programs through their health departments. In Miami County for example, mosquito control is done through cities, townships and villages, said Chris Cook, Miami County Health Commissioner.

In Montgomery County, which reported 12 cases of West Nile in 2012, a decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, said Mark Case, the environmental health director for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.

The county might launch an in-house testing program using kits, which are less accurate than state testing, to continue monitoring for the virus. That will cost at least an additional $7,000. The county’s mosquito control program that uses traps to count insects and then sprays the bug hot spots around the county will not be affected by the state program’s closure, Case added.

Clark County, which had eight reported cases of West Nile last year, doesn’t plan to do any in-house testing of mosquitoes. It will continue to emphasize public education to keep the disease in check by asking residents to drain standing water and use insect repellent when outdoors. Dan Chatfield, the county’s Director of Environmental Health, would like the state to continue the program.

“To me, it’s important to have a state lab that supports that activity,” he said. “There is no magic pot of money at the local level to take over for what the state is not going to do anymore.”

Greene County Director of Environmental Health Deborah Leopold said the county will continue mosquito counts and collections.

Butler County officials could not be reached for comment.

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