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Mosquitoes - Taking Action: West Nile Virus

Taking Action About West Nile Virus


Public agencies are responding to the threat of West Nile virus in a variety of ways ranging from aerial insecticide applications to responsible prevention programs. We've got a good challenge ahead of us to make sure that public agencies respond with prevention efforts instead of widespread use of pesticides. Now is a critical time to influence mosquito control policies and educate people in your community about how to protect themselves from West Nile virus.

This article includes detailed steps you can take to create change and affect future decisions in your area. It also provides information about public entities and their roles in responding to West Nile virus. It is a supplement to Mosquito Control and West Nile Virus. Please refer to this article for important information about mosquito control, prevention, and community education.

Take action early in the season to eliminate mosquito breeding ground and reduce the risk of bites in your community. Start educating yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood to do the same. Preventive measures and non-inflammatory public education are the most effective means of protection.

Community Education

Get involved in the creation and/or implementation of your community's West Nile virus response plan by contacting your state or local health department to see what is being done and how you can get involved. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides links to state and local web sites that deal with West Nile virus

You may be able to play a role in developing or promoting community education materials. Effective materials will be non-inflammatory, catchy, easy to understand, and in appropriate languages. They should focus on prevention, source reduction, and personal protection. This information can be distributed using posters, flyers, TV and radio ads, and regional websites. Your health department may have already developed this type of flyer or poster. For a good example of educational materials, see Washington Department of Health's poster and other educational materials.

Try organizing an educational forum or media event. Salem, Oregon, is organizing this kind of event that includes hands-on mock backyard tours, educational displays, and booths for vendors of useful products. If your community plans a similar event, make sure that it does not recommend pesticide use.

Mosquito Control

Get involved with agencies responsible for mosquito control in your area. Start by finding out if you are within a vector control district. If you are not within a vector control district you will need to find out what agency is responsible for mosquito control in your area/

Ask the agency responsible for mosquito control if there is a response plan for your region, and specifically if there is an aerial spray program in planned or in place. If a plan does exist, ask for a written copy. Find out who is responsible for implementing the plan.

If a plan is not in place, ask if one is being developed and by whom and how you can contact them. Insist that prevention efforts and community education are priorities in the plan.

If pesticide applications are part of the mosquito control program, see NCAP's Guidelines For Mosquito Control Programs. Ask your local agency to adopt these guidelines to make the proposed applications as responsible as possible.

Neighborhood Action and Education

Don't get discouraged if your local agencies aren't responsive. You can take action in your own neighborhood to prevent the spread of West Nile virus. Contact your city to find out if you have a neighborhood association. If you do, attend a meeting to encourage your neighbors to get involved in prevention efforts.

Try organizing a work party to help recycle old tires, clean gutters, and overturn wheelbarrows and buckets in backyards or along roadsides. Many neighborhoods have annual cleanup days already scheduled and could be convinced to add a new focus to the event. You might be able to recruit a church group, school group, or local Boy or Girl Scout troop to participate. Make sure to publicize the cleanup day well with door hangers, phone calls, or door knocking.

You might also want to distribute educational flyers or posters about steps people can take to prevent mosquitoes in and around their homes.

Persistence Pays

Public agencies may not be as receptive as you might hope them to be. You may be routed through several departments, sent to voice messaging systems, or given incomplete answers. Be persistent! This is a new disease to the Northwest and public agencies are sometimes understaffed and ill equipped to address your concerns.

Most importantly, remember that you have the right to be involved in the decisions that affect you, your family, your community, and the environment.

This article was originally published as:
Kemple, Megan and Anna Byers. 2003. "Taking Action about West Nile Virus." Journal of Pesticide Reform 23(1):22-23
Links updated 2008, 2010