It’s disease-carrying mosquito season, but coronavirus cripples response

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Credit: Earth's First Journal

Monitoring and killing mosquitoes is a key public health task used to curb the spread of deadly disease. In recent years, top mosquito-borne illnesses have killed some 200 people annually in the U.S. But that relatively low toll is due in part to the efforts of public health departments to keep the spread at bay.

But a joint investigation published [July 1] by KHN and The Associated Press detailed how state and local public health departments across the U.S. have been starved for decades, leaving them underfunded and without adequate resources to confront the coronavirus pandemic, let alone perform the other work like mosquito control they are tasked to handle at the same time. Over 38,000 public health worker jobs have been lost since 2008.

So as public health workers scramble to summon enough of a workforce to address a once-in-a-generation pandemic, they’re being pulled from normal mosquito-related tasks. The short staffing is leaving many localities — especially those without separate, dedicated control districts — flying blind on potential mosquito threats.

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The flu-like symptoms of diseases like West Nile — fever, body aches — especially worry Nina Dacko, who supervises the mosquito control program for Tarrant County Public Health in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I wonder which cases are going to be missed as everyone is going to expect COVID and then move on when they test negative,” she said.

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