Two Vermonters died this year from Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), now officials in Brandon say the state is not doing enough to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
The Mosquito Control District for Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury and Goshen says it did what it could with the funding it had to kill mosquito eggs before they hatched. But they say the state should have done more to support them and tackle the problem statewide. Now, they're proposing a new plan that has the backing of several area lawmakers.
The five-page plan highlights the state's shortfalls in arbovirus prevention and detection, calling it "shamefully inadequate... Spotty and mostly reactive." Gary Meffe, a scientist with the Brandon LSG Insect Control district, says it's the harsh truth.
"It was very marginal and it's obviously something that needs to be brought to a higher level in order to address the real potential seriousness of the problems moving forward," Meffe said.
Meffe and fellow board members presented a plan to 10 area legislators. It calls for roughly one-quarter million additional dollars distributed to the Vt. Health Department and Vt. Agriculture Agency. The funding would ramp up the state's management of the mosquitoes before eggs hatch, and collect and test the insects faster and in larger amounts than before.
"Let's find out where the mosquitoes are, where the real problem mosquitoes are, is the disease showing up? Where is it? And then let's treat it there," Meffe said.
Currently the state has just one entomologist when it used to have two. That means just one person is tasked with all the collection and testing statewide, which the report finds is almost impossible for one man to do and leads to a slower testing and turnaround time.
"I think the most critical thing is to get more boots on the ground, if you will, to get people out there sampling mosquitoes, tracking mosquito populations, tracking the virus so we can take a more scientifically placed approach to treatment," Meffe said.
According to the plan, the state should shore up an estimated $75,000 to fill a vacant chief entomologist spot, hire at least six seasonal assistants for field sampling and lab work to the tune of nearly $90,000, spend $20,000 on more comprehensive testing and $25,000 on a statewide education program. Add in some other miscellaneous costs and that's roughly $230,000. But it's a bill that has received unanimous support from legislators who have seen it.
"Money is tight," said Sen. Kevin Mullen, R-Rutland County. "We have a huge shortfall in the state and necessary hard decisions are going to have to be made, but I think this is one where I think everybody will be united in trying to prevent another tragedy from occurring."
While spraying, testing, and treating can be improved with state funds, Meffe says an important component is public awareness. He says people need to do what they can to keep themselves safe like wearing long clothing and staying inside from dusk until dawn when they can.
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