LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — In light of the outbreak of the rare but dangerous Eastern Equine Encephalitis, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services started aerial spraying for mosquitoes in southwest Michigan Monday evening.
Crews contracted by the state originally planned to spray areas Saturday evening where confirmed EEE cases happened, but rain stalled the work. Instead, a low-flying, small plane deployed a small dose of the pesticide over designated areas starting around 7:30 p.m. Monday.
An updated map shows the aerial spraying was set to take place in southeastern Van Buren County, central and northeastern Cass County, northeastern St. Joseph County and northeastern Berrien County.
Enough residents in Kalamazoo County and Portage opted out of aerial spraying that the state no longer plans to spray those areas. The announcement came after Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell stated he could not support the measure because “the spraying of pesticides by airplane over the entire city raises too many unanswered questions and concerns for me.”
MDHHS said all other potential treatment areas the agency identified will not be treated Monday evening. It’s unclear when future aerial spraying will take place for the identified zones that did not opt out.
Portage City Manager Laurence Shaffer said many residents were unsure about the plan and wanted more information.
“We had a lot of citizens that had questions about the nature of the material that was going to be utilized and what impact it might have on the environment and their personal health,” Shaffer said.
City leaders are looking into ways to better manage the mosquito population to reduce the chance of a future outbreak.
“The city of Portage is very interested in having a conversation with our friends and neighbors and colleagues about the types of preventive measures that might be deployed in order to address this issue,” Shaffer said.
Jeff Chamberlain, the deputy city manager for the City of Kalamazoo, says people should continue to take precautions to protect themselves.
“We do want people to be safe so if you are outdoors at night please use bug spray, wear long-sleeve shirts,” Chamberlain said.
The spraying elsewhere is again weather-dependent, with wind speeds, temperature and rainfall all factors.
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.
The state said while spraying could kill some pollinators, the work will be done after dusk when mosquitoes are most active and bees have returned to their hives. Concerned beekeepers are encouraged to put wet burlap over their hives.
State scientists say only one tablespoon of insecticide would be used per acre. Before some areas opted out, approximately 720,000 acres were originally slated to be sprayed at cost of up to $1.8 million.
The state health department says there are no general health risks to people, pets or animals 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.
Over the weekend, health officials confirmed a deer from Allegan County and an animal in Livingston County contracted EEE, bringing the total to 30 confirmed animal cases in 15 counties, including Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
Friday, Berrien County health officials confirmed another human case of EEE, bringing the total to nine people sickened in Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties. Of those nine people, three people from Kalamazoo, Van Buren and Cass counties have died.
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 repellent with DEET and to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts 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.