The threat of the Zika virus has apparently made our Raleigh politicians start to itch and consider the consequences of their demolishing the Vector and Tick Control programs of the Public Health Pest Management Section in 2011. The five positions eliminated meant all the state’s entomologists were fired and told to discard the research and other work they were doing to protect North Carolina’s residents from vectors like mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.
This action threw away many years of graduate-level training in public health and disease vectors. Lost were decades of literature and education resources provided to the public and many more decades of combined field experience, leaving the public vulnerable and without publicly provided resources.
Meanwhile, hurricanes hit our state, bringing increased mosquito populations. Disease-spreading ticks continued their march across North Carolina.
Since 2011 thousands of cases of mosquito and tick-borne infections have been reported to the state. This means we have a heavy burden of human suffering and economic losses from these dangerous pests, especially when an adult or child has died. Thankfully, the number of deaths is small.
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Our organization, Tick-borne Infections Council of North Carolina, is pleased that two entomologists will be hired to begin mapping where the two mosquito species that can vector the Zika virus reside, as described in the March 3 news article “State hiring entomologists to prepare defense.”
We hope the public realizes that, while a step in the right direction, many more steps are needed just to get back to the level of public health protection that we had before 2011.
Such efforts on the mosquito front included regularly training mosquito-control personnel, managing the annual sentinel chicken flock program that aided eastern equine encephalitis virus monitoring (the chickens are no more), training environmental health interns, conducting research to help reduce the number of encephalitis cases in children in the western part of the state, managing state funds for mosquito-control programs and providing mosquito control assistance after hurricanes and floods.
On the tick front, collections were being made across the state to learn what species were where and what diseases they were carrying. Self-protection information was being distributed in parks and through other means such as health departments. Tick identification was provided, entomologists were available to help citizens’ tick-related issues, and more. This has all ceased.
Marcia E. Herman-Giddens
Adjunct professor, Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC-Chapel Hill
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