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  The buzz about mosquitoes
Campus takes efforts to fight West Nile spread

Even before heavy spring rains brought swarms of mosquitoes into southeastern Michigan this year, workers on campus did their part to keep the pests from becoming a problem.
Walt Douglas, a staff member in the Plumbing Shop, uses a vacuum truck to clean a storm drain. Along with the use of briquettes that prevent mosquitoes from emerging into adults, the cleaning helps reduce the number of the pests on campus. (Photo by Pam Barker)

Workers from the Plant Operations Plumbing Shop cleaned out storm drains and catch basins in the spring with a vacuum truck to help control the numbers of the disease-spreading mosquitoes. All around campus, they dropped in more than 1,400 larvaciding briquettes, which release a growth regulator that prevents mosquitoes in the larval stage from becoming adults.

"It seems to be working," says Dave Gilbertson, foreman with Mechanical Services in the Plumbing Shop. "You go around campus, and we don't have mosquitoes like we used to."

These efforts are designed to control mosquito populations around campus, which is important in helping stop the spread of West Nile virus, says Pam Barker, program manager in the Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) Department and member of the Washtenaw County West Nile Virus Task Force.

The West Nile Task Force comprises county public and environmental health staff, a Michigan State University Extension representative, and volunteers. It was formed to review virus migration patterns in mosquitoes, corvids (such as blue jays, ravens and crows), and the human population in the county and nationally. This information is used to make recommendations for prevention strategies that are communicated to townships and municipalities, and through public outreach for groups interested in learning more about the disease.

The vacuuming and larvaciding also are used in other parts of the county and state. The briquettes do not harm the environment, Barker says.

Barker says the primary responsibility for steering clear of West Nile lies with individuals.

"You really need to protect yourself," she says. "We can monitor birds and do the larvaciding, but you have to take personal responsibility."

Ways for doing this include applying insect repellent with DEET and wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when mosquitoes are active in the morning and evening; repairing window screens that could allow the insects to enter a home; and emptying standing water that serves as breeding ground for the mosquitoes, such as clogged rain gutters, discarded tires, children's toys, pet water dishes, and other objects.

At press time, three birds had tested positive for West Nile virus in Washtenaw County this year. The presence of the crows in three distinct ZIP code areas means that people should take extra caution, county officials say.

A mild case of West Nile virus includes flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, malaise and body aches, lasting about three to five days. A more severe case could include a higher fever, severe headache, and sometimes confusion, weakness and paralysis. More serious complications occur in one out of every 150 infected individuals and can result in death.

"Most of the people infected with West Nile virus don't realize they have it because they didn't have—or didn't notice—the symptoms," says Dr. Cary Engleberg, professor and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division of Internal Medicine at the U-M Health System.

The state conducts testing on dead birds to determine if they were carriers of the virus. If a dead crow, raven or blue jay is found on campus, contact the Building Services Pest Management group at (734) 647-2059 for collection or OSEH at (734) 647-1143. The birds will be assessed by county public health staff and then sent to the state lab for testing. If you find a dead bird away from the Ann Arbor campus, contact your local health department for the proper procedures for handling and testing.

For more information about West Nile, visit, or

The county hotline for West Nile information is (734) 544-6750.

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