May 17, 2012, 10:29 a.m.
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Public health officials will start catching, marking and releasing mosquitoes this summer as part of a beefed up effort to combat the potentially deadly Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus carried by the bugs.
Five people have died of EEE in Central New York since 1971.
After 4-year-old Maggie Wilcox of Oswego died of EEE last summer, state and county public health officials from throughout Central New York looked for ways to improve their response to the regional disease. Mosquito-breeding grounds such as the Cicero Swamp and the Toad Harbor/Big Bay Swamp area in West Monroe in Oswego counties have long been hot beds for the virus which often shows up late in the summer.
The mosquito catch and release program is one of several strategies public health officials showcased at a news conference Wednesday at the State Fairgrounds.
The catch and release program will help public health officials figure out where and how quickly mosquitoes travel when they leave the Toad Harbor/Big Bay swamp area. Officials hope this information will help them determine when to spray and more accurately pinpoint the areas where the EEE virus originates.
Evan Walsh of the Oswego County Health Department said public health officials have long assumed the virus starts in Toad Harbor/Big Bay and spreads as mosquitoes travel. Last year they began wondering if there might be other smaller swamps in Oswego serving as points of origin for the disease after EEE-infected mosquitoes were found in New Haven just days after insects infected with the virus were found in Toad Harbor/Big Bay.
After they are trapped, mosquitoes will be marked with a fluorescent powder, then released with the intent of recapturing them later in Oswego and neighboring counties.
County public health officials plan to take a more cooperative, regional approach to mosquito surveillance this year.
“Mosquitoes don’t care about dotted lines between Oswego County and Onondaga County,” said Bryon Backenson of the state Health Department.
Oswego County is doubling the number of mosquito trap sites over a greater range this year.
As part of the more regional approach, counties will have more access to each other’s laboratory results, said Kevin Zimmerman of the Onondaga County Health Department. “That will make it easier for us to make decisions,” he said.
Dr. Cynthia Morrow, Onondaga County’s health commissioner, said the most important defense against EEE is using mosquito repellant, wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors and taking other preventive measures.
The counties will begin their seasonal mosquito surveillance activities next week.
Morrow said mosquito-borne viruses such as EEE and West Nile don’t usually show up until the end of July or early August.
New York included $150,000 in the state budget this year to combat EEE. The money is expected to be used to reimburse counties for aerial spraying over state lands, distribution of mosquito insecticide products and horse vaccinations.