KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Due to the growing number of mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis cases, state health officials said 14 counties have agreed to aerial spraying for the pest.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that the following counties are moving forward with a plan to spray for mosquitoes in response to the EEE outbreak: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
The spraying is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Sunday, weather dependent. Residents can get up-to-date information on the state’s website.
The MDHHS says crews in low-flying planes will be applying Merus 3.0 — an organic pesticide containing 5% pyrethrin, which is found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers. The mixture of six chemicals in Merus 3.0 is toxic to insects including mosquitoes, fleas, flies, moths, ants and other pests.
State scientists say only one tablespoon of insecticide would be used per acre. Approximately 720,000 acres will be sprayed at cost of up to $1.8 million.
“We’ve had the most human and animal activity and so we will be, I think, at the front of the list. Planes will be departing out of either the Kalamazoo Airport or the Battle Creek airport. We don’t have any information yet as to what that schedule looks like,” Rutherford said.
The state says they will give people notice when spraying will occur and provide updates because spraying is very dependent on weather and can be canceled.
>>MDHHS: FAQs for aerial mosquito spraying
The state health department says there are no general health risks to people during or after the spraying. While surface and drinking water shouldn’t be affected, the state is encouraging people to cover small ornamental fishponds during the night of spraying.
However people with sensitivities to pyrethrins are encouraged to stay inside during spraying. While it’s not necessary, concerned pet owners can also bring their animals inside during spraying.
Friday, Berrien County health officials confirmed another human case of EEE, bringing the total to nine people sickened Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties. Of those nine people, three have died in Kalamazoo, Van Buren and Cass counties.
State health officials said there have also been 27 confirmed cases in animals in the following counties: Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
Even though there have not been any confirmed animal or human cases of EEE in Allegan or Branch counties, they have agreed to the spraying.
Kalamazoo County commissioners had been debating if such a step was necessary, and the impact on beneficial insects like butterflies and bees.
Michigan Mosquito Control Association President Carl Doud told News 8 while spraying could kill some pollinators, the work would have to be done at night when mosquitoes are most active and bees have returned to their hives.
Doud said spraying would likely target adult mosquitoes in wooded areas and not be harmful to humans, pets or animals.
However in a statement, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell said he couldn’t support the effort because “the spraying of pesticides by airplane over the entire city raises too many unanswered questions and concerns for me.”
The MDHHS has said property owners in the spray area can opt out by emailing their name and full mailing address to email@example.com at least 48 hours before spraying begins.
However, state health warned that opting out would reduce the overall effectiveness of the treatment and neighbors upwind of the opt-out area would not see mosquito numbers drop.
Kalamazoo County was the first county to announce plans for aerial spraying. So far this year, three people and six animals in Kalamazoo County have fallen ill from the extremely rare but dangerous EEE. The infection killed one of those people and all of the animals.
Last week, all nine superintendents in Kalamazoo County announced they were following the recommendation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and rescheduling evening outdoor activities to reduce the risk of exposure to EEE. Time adjustments will continue until county health officials say the risk of mosquito bites has been greatly reduced or eliminated.
Thursday, many school districts in Kent County followed suit after the state confirmed the county’s first animal death from EEE. Numerous football games have shifted to an earlier kickoff time to end before dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. Students and parents are encouraged to check start times with their district before heading to any game.
Kalamazoo County’s announcement came hours before country star Luke Bryan was set to perform at Stafford Farms in Richland. Representatives of Bryan’s Farm Tour told News 8 crews sprayed the area in light of the EEE cases. Health officials are also encouraging concertgoers to bring insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants.
MDHHS offered support this week for any county with EEE cases interested in aerial spraying. However, MDHHS says the decision to spray is up to each county.