The cure is worse

  While it is always compelling to hear individual anecdotes of the suffering caused by West Nile virus, the danger posed by this disease has been blown out of proportion in the United States (HCN, 11/12/07). In Colorado in 2006, for example, there were 724 suicides, 609 deaths due to influenza and pneumonia, 226 deaths from drunk driving, and 1,888 deaths from accidental injuries. These certainly overshadow the six fatalities and few dozen disabling cases of West Nile virus. Yet, because of fear, partly magnified by the news media and pesticide companies, the response is often out of proportion and unhelpful. Take Sacramento, Calif., where a few cases of West Nile virus in 2005 prompted wholesale, repeated aerial spraying of permethrin over large areas of the city. Permethrin kills only adult mosquitoes - often a futile tactic, as the adult population rebounds within a few days. Permethrin, classified as a possible carcinogen, has been increasingly identified as an immune, nervous and endocrine system disruptor in mammals. It is likely that more people will be sickened by preventative adulticide sprayings than would be in danger of suffering the more severe forms of West Nile disease. Measured, integrated pest management programs that rely on larvicides, public education and the removal of breeding habitat are a much better and more reliable method of combating West Nile.

Claude Ginsburg
Director, No Spray Zone
Seattle, Washington