SUDBURY — One Vermont community is rallying around a petition that calls for the creation of an arbovirus surveillance laboratory for Vermont to detect bugs carrying eastern equine encephalitis and other viruses potentially deadly to humans.
Colleen Wright, of Sudbury, a friend of Scott Sgorbati, the state’s first victim of EEE this year, is posting the petition in three local stores today in an effort to get signatures from Vermonters who want to see more prevention of EEE, West Nile and other viruses carried by bugs.
An arbovirus is a virus transmitted to humans and other mammals through arthopods, or bugs.
The petition is in reaction to Sgorbati’s death last month at the age of 49. He was a resident of Sudbury who was bitten by a mosquito and died weeks later from the EEE virus it carried.
Sgorbati was the state’s first fatality, and Brandon’s Richard Hollis Breen was the second.
Breen, 89, died five days after contracting EEE, also from a mosquito.
Both men lived in or near a mosquito district that ground sprayed for adult mosquitoes multiple times each summer.
After the deaths, the state Health Department issued its first “imminent health risk,” the trigger for aerial spraying to occur for the first time in Vermont to kill adult mosquitoes.
But even after the spraying, Brandon area residents were on high alert.
Now, some of them are asking the state to do more.
“Basically, it calls for the creation of an arbovirus surveillance lab in the state of Vermont, staffed in order to reduce detection time (of mosquitoes after they are trapped) from two months to 24-72 hours,” Wright wrote in an email.
“This is not limited to discovery of the EEE and West Nile virus mosquito,” Wright said, also referring to a high number of Lyme disease-carrying ticks found in Bridport.
“It also calls for a return to full funding for a mosquito lab, which was cut by 75 percent last year,” according to Wright.
Since 2009, federal money to trap and test mosquitoes has reduced significantly and with it, the number of traps and employees who do the work.
State health and agriculture officials have said the process of mosquito testing was stalled this summer for months as a contract with an out-of-state testing lab was ironed out.
Samples were stockpiled, but if they were sent out on a weekly basis as in years past, EEE would have been detected sooner, officials said.
A lab like the one Wright is suggesting can be created at the University of Vermont or another state Health Department facility because all the equipment is available, according to Alan Graham, state entomologist and the only state employee charged with testing mosquitoes.
Wright said her intention is a simple one.
She wants her friends and neighbors to know what’s out there before it’s too late.
“Rather than waiting for a human to get it, like Scott, it can immediately go into the press,” she said.
“They can be tested right within the state, and you don’t have people not knowing what’s out there.”
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