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    Biting Back: Our Suggestions Re WNV in LB

    (June 14, 2004) -- For weeks, has reported in detail on mounting numbers of dead birds infected with the mosquito-borne, potentially serious and sometimes deadly West Nile Virus.

    As reported exclusively on June 14, Dr. William Reisen, Research Entomologist and Director in Residence, Mosquito & Arbovirus Ecology, Davis Arbovirus Research Unit has said we're in the midst of "the largest mosquito-borne virus outbreak in the history of North America, and the biggest West Nile [Virus] outbreak ever documented in the world."

    As we also reported on June 14, two WNV-positive mosquitoes were recently found in LB (thanks to trapping surveillance by LB's Dept. of Health and Human Services).

    More dead crows infected with WNV have been found in Cerritos and cities up the San Gabriel River toward the San Gabriel Valley and its environs.

    And CA now has its first human case of the mosquito-borne WNV in San Bernardino.

    What to do? We're not an expert, but here are our suggestions.

    First, in the words of the physician's oath, "Do No Harm."

    The worst thing to do would be to clog neighborhood storm drains by sweeping debris into them. As Dr. Reisen told us and we reported, it would be counter-productive to respond to a gutter water by grabbing a broom to sweeping a clog of debris into a strom drain.

    Mosquitoes apparently favor the rotting mash of leaves, twigs and other refuse for breeding. When that collects in storm drains -- miles of them underground -- the result can produce big numbers of mosquitoes. We've heard this from so many independent sources (including field workers, not bureaucrats) that it has the ring of truth to it. And yes, it's illegal to clog a storm drain, so don't sweep debris into one.

    It makes much more sense to do what Dr. Reisen recommended: pick up any debris (use gloves or a rake) and put it in a refuse recepticle. (Caveat: For gosh sakes don't let water collect in your refuse containers or anywhere else.)

    Also, most LB streets are swept every week. Good! The mosquito breeding cycle averages about a week...but experts acknowledge that street sweeping alone doesn't substitute for mosquito abatement (spraying larvaecides and the like).

    Of course, the public has a major role in this...from cleaning out backyard birdbaths every few days, to throwing away old tires that collect water, to draining abandoned swimming pools.

    We sense people will do their part if they see government actions that match government's words. Combining standing water in a city gutter with a City Hall brush off sends the wrong message.

    The right message, we think, is not alarmed, but alert and prepared...and on the case.

    Our biggest concern is that current resources just aren't sufficient to handle what's coming. LB has five field people five days a week for roughly half the city. There are roughly thirty people for the other half of LB plus the lion's share of eastern and southern L.A. County up to roughly Burbank. With all due respect, we don't think the current level is enough (and neither did Dr. Reisen when we asked him, although he does support local vector control efforts.).

    One human case has already been confirmed in San Bernardino. To us, that's an ominous sign (especially so early in May) because Dr. Reisen told the Greater L.A. County Vector Control District (in another context, but relevant here):

    "I think the best way to fight [WNV] is the way you're doing right now [in the GLACVCD]...through integrated vector management programs that actually try to keep mosquito population levels down low enough that you won't have the amplification of virus and the spread to the human population, which usually requires quite a critical mass before you get this spill-over."

    From this, we conclude that some people in San Bernardino weren't able to keep infected mosquitoes below the critical mass and as a result, WNV spilled-overinto the human population. In our opinion, one of the first things LB and the GLACVCD should do is find out what San Bernardino did wrong...and then do everything possible not to repeat its mistakes.

    And if LBDHHS and GLACVCD need additional resources, now is the time to say so...not after LB reaches that critical mass of infected mosquitoes that produces human WNV cases.

    LB's Public Health Officer, Dr. Darryl Sexton, is a steady captain in troubled waters. When we mentioned that an ELB homeowner complained about standing water, he became very concerned and said he intended to drive by personally. When we noted that LB wasn't in LBDHHS' vector control territory, Dr. Sexton responded like a doctor, not a bureaucrat. From a public health standpoint, he reminded us, what happens in one area inevitably affects the rest of it.

    Of course, he's right. If someone sneezes in WLB, others will soon be sneezing in ELB. And that's exactly why we'd feel more comfortable if we knew LBDHHS and GLACVCD really were coordinating their efforts. It's very inefficient to fight (and win) a war with two armies if they don't work closely together.

    We're troubled by the fact that half of LB -- virtually all of ELB -- is served by GLACVCD without high ranking City of LB representation on its governing Board (which decides how the agency spends money and the like). Like all of GLACVCD's 35 member cities, LB has a seat on GLACVCD's Governing Board. Lakewood sends veteran Councilman Joe Esquivel (he's Board VP). Signal Hill sends Dr. Hazel Wallace (about whom Dr. Sexton speaks highly). LB's representative is Joy Dowell, a personable woman appointed in 1991 by former Mayor Ernie Kell. We think that under the current WNV circumstances, LB should thank her for her years of service and appoint either a LB Councilmember from the GLACVCD area or a high ranking LB management staffer (who lives in LB, a GLACVCD requirement). They'll be voting on allocating resources and guiding policy that could affect the health and safety of about half of the city of LB.

    We also think it's time to think outside the box. Might Court-ordered community service include some vector control work? Can organized Scout troops or other service groups pitch in in neighborhoods? We don't know...but now's the time to find out.

    This is a big fight against a serious enemy. As GLACVCD's web site notes, "Mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths than any other living creature."

    With each passing week, the number of infected dead crows mounts, spreading WNV further, making it harder to prevent the "critical mass" of infected mosquitoes above which human WNV cases appear. It's not unfair to say time is of the essence right now.

    LB is not far from San Bernardino (home of CA's first reported human case) as the crow flies.

    "It's truly a test of organized mosquito control and public health as to whether they can rally to protect the residents of Los Angeles or the residents of California in general," Dr. Reisen said.

    Yes, it is.

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