Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remembering Mosquito spraying in the 1960s

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Many suburban communities through Cook and DuPage Counties will be spraying for mosquitoes because of fears stemming from the West Nile Virus outbreaks.

Dozens of people have become infected with West Nile Virus, and several have died. The virus is carried by mosquitoes. The virus was first associated with Africa, the Middle East and Asia and first appeared in the United States in New York in 1999. It's been an annual health threat ever since.

Local governments have arranged to have their communities sprayed to kill mosquitoes that might be carrying the virus. This year has been particularly deadly with more than 66 fatalities nationally. Incidents of the virus are increasing exponentially, up 40 percent from last week and expanding.

It's become of particular concern in Cook and DuPage Counties following the death of some noted celebrities including the Village President of Lombard, Bill Mueller.

When I was a child, we had never heard of West Nile Virus. People did die from the flu virus and other infections, many thought to have been spread by mosquitoes during rainy summer months. Although this year in Chicagoland has been dry, with a drought across the country, the last few weeks have brought rains, pooling water and a sudden increase in mosquitoes.

Government efforts to combat the virus include driving trucks spraying a "fog" consisting of chemicals including Envion, which is most commonly used to kill mosquito larvae and mosquitoes with carry the virus. Envion is not considered dangerous. As a child, the county used DDT and sprayed it twice a summer at the start and at the end driving the truck through neighborhoods up and down streets until the entire city was covered.

The truck was large and white, and it had a tube that extended from the back that spray the heavy gray-white fog into the air as it drove down the street. As children, we used to drive out bikes next to the truck, grabbing on to the truck and to the other kids on their bikes who were holding on to the truck as the DDT saturated our faces, hair and noses.

It wasn't healthy but back then, no one really cared. Never mind that riding a bike while holding on to the side of a big truck driving down a street was considered pretty dangerous, too, and still is.

Nowadays, the idea of having the chemical sprayed in the air has raised fears among parents. So local officials from government and schools have been doing "robo-calls" to alert parents that spraying will take place in suburban communities, usually after 8 pm and closer to the curfews to minimize contact with humans who presumably are in their homes.

Hopefully, it will work.

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