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Mosquito Research Feels Bite Of Budget Cuts

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Mosquito Research Feels Bite Of Budget Cuts


Mosquito Research Feels Bite Of Budget Cuts

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Mosquitoes can also carry the West Nile virus. State laboratories around the country are testing mosquitoes to warn people about the presence of the virus.

But as Craig LeMoult from member station Jason WSHU reports, federal and state budget cuts are threatening some of those labs.

CRAIG LEMOULT: Abbott Brush walks up to a strange looking contraption in the wooded area of New Haven, near a pond. It's a mosquito trap.

Mr. ABBOTT BRUSH: And what this is, this is a bucket of water - very smelly water, which you are welcome to check out. It attracts them, because they want to come there and lay the eggs.

LEMOULT: A fan sucks them up into a mesh net, which has about a hundred mosquitoes stuck in it.

(Soundbite of mosquito swarm)

LEMOULT: Brush visits four different sites and brings his mosquito catch to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

Unidentified Woman: Hi, Abbott.

Mr. BRUSH: How you doing today (unintelligible)?

Unidentified Woman: Good. How are you?

LEMOULT: Since West Nile was first found in the US in 1999, the virus has spread and established itself as an annual concern. Last year, 57 people in the U.S. died of the virus. It causes a mild illness in most healthy adults, but the elderly are particularly vulnerable. So far this year, three people have died.

Here in the state lab, undergraduate student Tara Hannon and other seasonal workers stare at the mosquitoes through microscopes, identifying the subtle traits that distinguish the 30 or so different species in the state.

Ms. TARA HANNON (Undergraduate Student): My supervisor warned me that we'd be looking at mosquitoes so often that they'd be in your dreams, and they are. And it's the worst.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEMOULT: DNA tests confirm if that the mosquitoes have West Nile. They also test for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a more rare, but more dangerous virus. The head of the program, state entomologist Theodore Andreadis, says the program costs about 400 to $500,000 dollars a year.

Mr. THEODORE ANDREADIS (State Entomologist, Connecticut): And the only thing that's allowed us to expand this program has been these federal CDC funds that were made available to all states throughout the country in an attempt to enhance surveillance, to build up capacity, to deal with this newly emerging virus.

LEMOULT: But Connecticut, like the rest of country, has seen that federal funding significantly cut over the last five years or so. Roger Nasci of the CDC says cutting the federal funding was always their plan.

Mr. ROGER NASCI (CDC): The program was never intended to be a long-term, high-level maintenance, but to provide the core capacity to the states, with the hope and the assumption that they would pick up the components that were required for their particular jurisdictions.

LEMOULT: But, as everybody knows, it's not a great time for state budgets. In North Carolina, the state cut funding for its mosquito surveillance program earlier this summer. That put Bruce Harrison out of a job.

Mr. BRUCE HARRISON: Instead of us finding that West Nile is prevalent and warning people to take precautions and use repellent and stay indoors if the mosquitoes are bad, there's not going to be anybody to do that here in the state. And any program across the United States that's had cuts is in the same pickle.

LEMOULT: In 2002, there were nearly five times as many deaths from the virus as there were last year. Harrison says that means they've done a good job preventing human cases. But he says it also means West Nile is off the radar of those who provide the funding.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult, in Connecticut.

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