KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Aerial mosquito spraying in southwest Michigan that was supposed to start Sunday has been postponed due to poor weather.
The spray was planned amid an outbreak of mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis that has infected nine people in six southwestern Michigan counties and killed three patients in Kalamazoo, Van Buren and Cass counties.
On Sunday evening, the state said the “weather was not ideal for spraying.” It said more information on when spraying would begin would be released Monday.
Earlier Sunday, Kalamazoo County said that the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage would not be sprayed at all. The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department said that “the number of resident opt-out notifications received by (the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) comprises a large enough geographic distribution in which aerial spraying would no longer be an effective measure to reduce adult mosquito populations in the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage.”
The county may move forward with aerial spraying in other areas based on where EEE has been found and where enough residents haven’t opted out.
The plan to deploy an aerial treatment has been met with controversy. Some have suggested it’s an overreaction.
“Until it’s an epidemic, I think that’s a very strong action,” Kalamazoo County resident Kelly LeBlanc said. “I don’t even think they’ve ever done that for West Nile virus.”
Others say they’re concerned about the effects the chemical spray would have on other insects and wildlife.
“It’s going to kill mosquitoes but what else is it going to kill? There are crops that people are growing that’ll be covered in that too, and we don’t know the effects of that,” Kalamazoo County resident Alex Sanborn said.
But MDHHS says the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the spray. It plans to forward in spraying in several counties once the weather cooperates, a decision some say is best for families.
“At first, I kind of don’t really like pesticides but I think the pros outweigh the cons because this disease is more likely to cause problems for wildlife and that hurts the environment as well,” Tina Chiu, who lives in Kalamazoo County, said.
When spraying is happening, low-flying aircraft will be in the air starting in the early evening and overnight until 4:30 a.m. You can keep an eye on what areas are being sprayed on the MDHHS EEE webpage. If you want to more about the spray the state is using, you can also call the toxicology line at 1.517.335.8165.
“Aerial treatment is being conducted because this disease represents an emergent threat to Michigan’s public health, and public health authorities must take decisive action to protect Michiganders,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a Sunday statement. “In the last few days we have confirmed three new EEE cases in animals and two of those were in counties not previously affected by this deadly virus.”
Those two new counties are Allegan and Livingston. In all, the illness has been found in 30 animals in 15 counties: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
Kalamazoo County said it learned that a deer tested positive for the disease last week, which means it probably contracted it this month. In all, seven animals in the county have be diagnosed with EEE.
The threat will remain until the mosquito population is killed off by the first hard freeze, which Storm Team 8 says may not happen until mid-October in southwestern counties.
Even in areas that have been sprayed, authorities are reminding people to wear insect repellant with DEET and to wear long pants and sleeves when outdoor at dusk and down, when mosquitoes may be more active. If you can, avoid going out at dusk and dawn.
Make sure the screens at your home are tightly fitted and in good shape to keep mosquitoes out. Get rid of standing water on your property, where mosquitoes breed.
EEE can first appear as fever, chills and aches. In serious cases, the disease progresses to encephalitis with headaches, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis, which can cause brain damage and death. While it’s rare for a human to get EEE, a third of those who get sick will die, health officials say.
—News 8’s Whitney Burney contributed to this report.