Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2003 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Mosquitoes kill us; DDT doesn't
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Should your health be left to you and your doctor? Or should agents of your federal, state or local government manage it? And should those charged with public heath responsibilities give higher priority to non-health agendas than to saving human lives?
Although we've often discussed these question in overall policy terms, looking at the health care systems in this country and health insurance arrangements, we're going to look at how political policies impact your health through the public health departments in federal, state and local governments. In particular, we'll look how the management and mismanagement of the outbreak of the West Nile Virus is impacting us. At issue here is not just their failure to control the disease properly. It's that the failure - specifically, the refusal to use the insecticide DDT to control the mosquitoes that carry the virus - is based upon discredited information and ongoing superstitions concerning the safety of DDT.
The West Nile Virus infects people and animals, including certain mosquito species, dogs, cats, birds and many other warm-blooded species. The virus infects mosquitoes when the suck up the virus in the blood of infected warm-blooded animals. Infected mosquitoes then pass it on when they bite other animals, inoculating new victims with the virus. Mosquitoes also spread other diseases, such as malaria, earning these bugs the dubious title of "flying hypodermic needles."
The virus first appeared in this country in New York City in 1999; before that, it infected people in Africa, southern Europe and southwest Asia. Since appearing in New York, state health authorities have reported West Nile Virus infection in 8219 people so far this year and 4156 last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus has killed 284 people so far this year, already exceeding last year's toll of 182 deaths. [http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/surv&controlCaseCount02.htm, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/surv&controlCaseCount03.htm accessed 8 November 2003]
In most cases, West Nile Virus infection causes a flu-like illness that clears up in a few days. In some cases, however, it infects the brain and neighboring tissues, causing inflammation and swelling (encephalitis and/or meningitis) that kills the victim.
Since 1999 the disease has been spreading across the country, with human cases from 43 out of the 48 contiguous states reported to the CDC so far this year. However, only people with the most severe symptoms are even tested for West Nile Virus infection. A lot of people get it, recover, and never know they had it.
Much more information about the nature of the virus and disease is at http://www.oism.org/ddp/ddpnews/ddpsep03.htm, http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/digest/034/miller.html, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm, and http://westnilemaps.usgs.gov/.
Although most human cases are not fatal, treatment for the disease is limited to supportive treatment, to help the victim survive the virus by reducing the severity of the complications, such as brain swelling. No antibiotics or other treatment directly attacks the virus. There's no vaccine either.
For prevention, the CDC recommends wearing long-sleeve shirts and using mosquito repellant during the mosquito seasons of the year, which unfortunately coincide with hot and humid weather in many parts of the country. To quote the CDC West Nile Virus web page featuring a photo of a smiling woman spraying herself "Spraying repellent with DEET on skin and clothing is safe and effective to reduce mosquito bites." [http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm]
Also unfortunately, the mosquitoes that spread the virus are being treated with kid gloves. The CDC does not even mention killing off the bugs with the safe and effective DDT as an option.
A group calling itself the "Safer Pest Control Project" recommends "ecological methods" for controlling the virus, such as draining puddles and other stagnant water collections where mosquitoes can breed. Unfortunately for this approach, draining swamps and even puddles can require applying for and being granted a portfolio of "Mother, may I?" permits from multiple government agencies. As Steve Milloy of junkscience.com writes " 'Ecological methods,' it seems, is merely a euphemism for saying 'Shoo!' "
Further, as Henry Miller reports in the current edition of the "Hoover Digest" [http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/digest/034/miller.html] there is a big difference between spreading large amounts of DDT "in the environment ... and applying it carefully and sparingly to fight mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. DDT's use for insect control would require relatively small amounts of the chemical."
It's time to not only drain the swamps containing mosquitoes but also drain the mental swamps in some public health officials heads. It's also time to use safe and effective weapons in appropriate ways, such as the insecticide DDT, to control mosquitoes.
Unfortunately for humans as well as birds and other animals, public health services wear political blinders when considering possible ways to control this disease. These officials seem to listen to environmental con artists, including those at the EPA, rather than scientists such as J. Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences at San Jose State University who has been telling the truth about DDT and exposing DDT superstitions for many years. [http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm] CDC officials ignore recent scientific evidence on the safety and effectiveness of DDT in controlling disease-carrying mosquitoes.
In America, we're talking about hundreds of deaths this year from West Nile Virus; around the world mosquitoes cause more than a million deaths, many in children, mostly by spreading malaria.
Just as failing to remove fallen trees and other debris from the woodlands in Southern California aggravated the loss of life and damage due to the recent wildfires, ignoring scientific advances and failing to remove mosquitoes will only aggravate a possible West Nile Virus epidemic.
We agree with Milloy when he writes "Judicious use of DDT won't harm people or the environment. It will, however, kill mosquitoes which is better than mosquitoes killing us."
We would also urge public health services to remember that human beings are
part of the environment, too. And just like mosquitoes and wetlands, we got
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