Skeeters Return 

Just when you were ready to celebrate the many wonderful offerings of summer, here's one not-so-pleasant factor to think about: West Nile virus, and the toxic chemicals used against it.

As temperatures climb, mosquitoes are emerging and bringing with them the potentially deadly virus that killed 21 people in Idaho last year. Idaho had the highest infection rate in the nation in 2006, with 996 confirmed cases, including 252 in Ada County and 182 in Canyon County.

In response, Ada County is launching an all-out public awareness campaign, trying to warn residents of the risks and avoid last year's record-breaking infection rate.

"Fight the Bite" combines television and radio public service announcements, with newspaper ads, mass mailings and a ramped-up Web site -- and it's all launching today.

Last year in Ada County, 211 of the 252 confirmed cases of West Nile were the milder form of the disease, but 41 patients contracted the neuroinvasive form, which causes swelling in the brain and a host of neurological problems that can last throughout a victim's life. All of the deaths that occurred in the state were from this form of the disease.

"These statistics should be a wake-up call to all Idahoans," said Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre.

The county faced widespread criticism last year after a last-minute meeting of the county commission authorized spraying of Dibrom, an insecticide. The broadcast spraying spooked local organic farmers and prompted criticism over the effectiveness of the spray methods. Some of the chemicals used have been linked to breast cancer, although county officials say it's done in low doses. The spraying cost the county roughly $37,000, with the state picking up the rest of the $150,000 bill.

Commissioners said they hope to avoid the aerial spraying this year.

The state Legislature did approve an opt-out program, allowing those who do not want their property sprayed to create their own abatement plan, which must be approved by county Weed and Pest Control. The agency will also monitor the site to make sure the landowner is following through.

This year, Brian Wilbur, director of Ada County Weed and Pest Control, said larvicide (killing mosquitoes before they hatch) has already started, and the department has increased the number of monitoring sites from 1,600 to 2,300. It also moved testing abilities to the county level, added two more employees and a truck, and added resources to its Web site.

The county will again help the public track where infections are occurring via the county's Web site, www.adaweb.net, and residents can report problem areas on the mosquito hotline, 208-577-4111.

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