The Champaign County Health District was awarded almost $40,000 in mosquito control grant money this month.
According to information from Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $39,403 will be distributed to the local health district to help mitigate the spread of mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika, West Nile and La Crosse Encephalitis.
Health district emergency preparedness coordinator Jeanne Bowman said the grant will help local municipalities pay for their spraying efforts. These municipalities include St. Paris, Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and Urbana along with Goshen Park.
Bowman said through the grant the local municipalities are reimbursed for what they spend on mosquito spraying.
“I think the EPA gave us a great opportunity to protect our people in Champaign County,” Bowman said.
Last year, the county received $37,300 in grant funding. Bowman said this was due to the collaborative efforts of the local municipalities.
“We met in March of last year before the EPA even sent out an opportunity for a grant,” Bowman said. “We just felt there was so much in the paper and on TV about Zika that as a health department we needed to pull some people together and see what plan we needed to have.”
“It was a competitive grant so we needed to show how we would use the money, why the money should come to us rather than other counties and I think we were able to justify that because we already had the partnerships in place within the community and we have a need for it here because we have a lot of potential breeding sites in Champaign County,” Health Commissioner Gabe Jones said.
Jones said the concerns with the Zika virus are that it has spread rapidly, mosquitoes that spread the virus are showing up in parts of the country where they previously were not showing up, and that the virus can cause unwanted health issues such as potential birth defects.
Jones said last year Champaign County had one reported case of the Zika virus from a returning traveler. This was the only reported mosquito-borne case in the county last year.
In addition to mosquito spraying, the health district will perform mosquito collecting again this year.
Environmental Technician Steve Moore said collecting mosquitoes is a three-day process and last year it was conducted for eight weeks.
“We didn’t have any mosquitoes last year that were the Zika carrying,” Moore said. “I think we had a number of like 1,200 mosquitoes that were trapped in our county and that’s not bad considering the first four weeks was like one in each trap because it was so dry. And then we had the rain and things picked up.”
Moore anticipated the health district will start collecting mosquitoes in July or August this year. He noted this depends on the weather.
Jones spoke on the importance of collecting mosquitoes in the county.
“Out of the two (mosquitoes) that can pass (Zika) on to others, we want to know whether they’re in the county because should someone come back and be infected they could pass it on to other people and then it would turn into a concerning situation,” Jones said. “That’s why we try to get rid of all the breeding sites and try to identify the mosquitoes so that we know whether or not they’re here.”
Another collaborative effort the health district and local municipalities held last year to combat mosquitoes was a Scrap Tire Disposal Day in October. Moore said grant funding helped pay for this event.
“It was very expensive but I think it was worthwhile because we got rid of thousands of tires,” Moore said.
The health district wants to hold another tire disposal event this year, but no date is currently scheduled.
In addition to some of the action the grant allows the health district and its partners to take against mosquitoes, the health district is also trying to educate the public on avoiding mosquitoes through different means.
As a member of a multi-county emergency preparedness group focused on the west central area of the state, Bowman said money that was supposed to be used for Ebola is now being used for Zika awareness allowing for the health district to use a billboard to create awareness and publish fliers aimed at educating the public.
The health district also plans to educate residents about mosquitoes through their website, Facebook page and during the county fair.
Bowman said people need to get a repellent that is EPA endorsed and should wear long sleeves in the evening. She also said residents need to have screens on windows fixed.
To eliminate mosquito breeding sites, Moore said to eliminate standing water and to change bird baths regularly. He noted the biggest offensive areas are swimming pools that are not being used.
Grants totaling $976,600 are being issued in 35 counties and four cities and are available in collaboration and support with the Ohio Department of Health’s larger effort to mitigate the potential for an outbreak of mosquito-borne viruses.
Over the last two years, the Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Health have awarded nearly $3 million to local health departments and communities for mosquito control programs.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.