Health officials in the National Capital Region recently approved a plan for coordinating West Nile virus (WNV) response. The plan is available on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) website at http://www.mwcog.org/documents/2003/08/01/west-nile-virus-response-plan--health-public-safety--/. The plan’s release coincides with the seasonal increase in positive WNV reports (mosquito pools, horses, birds, and humans), and the increased need for cooperative mosquito control efforts by public health officials and the public at large.
The 2003 West Nile Virus Response Plan (WNVRP) describes and coordinates efforts to control West Nile virus in the COG region. Acknowledging that West Nile virus would continue to threaten the region’s population for years to come, in 2001 local health officials convened a committee of public health and mosquito experts to coordinate response efforts and to develop a regional plan that would help strengthen partnerships within the public health community and with the public.
“Because re-emerging mosquito-borne diseases are still relatively new, many residents of the metropolitan Washington area are not yet mosquito-savvy,” said Lynn Frank, chief of Public Health Services in Montgomery County and chair of the Council of Government’s Health Officials Committee. “Local health departments are doing their best to inform our communities about making prevention efforts part of their daily lifestyles.”
The 2001 response plan addressed the virus as an emerging threat. Today, WNV is endemic. The COG region saw 73 reported human cases last year (with seven deaths), up from a single case in 2001. Nationally, the number of serious WNV infection in humans has grown from 66 cases in 2001, to 4156 cases (and 284 deaths) in 2002. The goal of the 2003 WNVRP is to prevent human infections by encouraging citizens to use personal protective measures and to assist in reducing mosquito species that carry WNV in areas near human populations. The Plan lists such mosquito control measures as:
·Draining or removing containers of standing water at least once a week, and eliminating or treating puddles on residential property
·Encouraging personal protection strategies, such as using insect repellant containing DEET, wearing long-sleeved, light-colored clothing outside, and repairing window and door screens
·Using larvicides, adulticides, and natural predators where appropriate
The Plan complements those developed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia last spring. Local plans for response vary among the jurisdictions, however it is agreed universally that the public plays an essential role in combating and reducing the WNV threat. Public efforts are essential in reducing “Asian tiger” mosquito populations, which breed in artificial containers of water around the home, and which are active during the day. These mosquitoes cannot be controlled without residents’ efforts to reduce breeding sites on their property. The Plan provides citizens with website and contact information for WNV response in their local jurisdiction.
Outlining techniques for WNV surveillance currently in use, the Plan sets regional standards for reporting WNV activity in mosquito, bird, horse, and human populations. The WNVRP also contains guidelines for communication between surveillance, mosquito control, and public health officials regarding WNV activities.
Health officials say maintaining a strong partnership between the public health sector and residents of the National Capital Region is the only way to effectively control the spread of WNV in our region.