David Ashburn is a member of the Walker County Development Authority.Photo by Ryan Harris
Because of what one official describes as "panic" over West Nile virus, residents in Walker and Catoosa counties are clamoring for mosquito spraying -- even though no confirmed cases of the potentially deadly disease have been reported in Northwest Georgia.
Walker County is spraying for the first time in years because of public concern, while Catoosa County has seen requests for spraying nearly double.
"The public pays taxes; they want you to do spraying," Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn said. "We ordered spray, got it in and are systematically spraying the county now.
"It's not cheap," he said, noting that the concentrated mosquito spray the county buys and mixes with water or mineral oil costs $5,000 to $6,000 per barrel.
County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell restarted the mosquito spraying program a few weeks ago in response to residents' requests, Ashburn said.
The 1,993 cases of West Nile disease nationwide in 2012 are the highest number reported through the first week in September since the virus first was detected in the United States in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While only about one case of West Nile virus in 150 requires hospitalization -- usually when the virus affects the brain and spinal cord -- about 10 percent of those hospitalized die, while others are left paralyzed, comatose or with serious mental problems, according to Times Free Press archives.
There have been no confirmed West Nile cases in the 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health district, which includes Walker and Catoosa counties, said health district spokesman Logan Boss.
Personal protection is the best defense, he said. That includes staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using insect repellent that contains DEET.
"Larviciding," or using tablets to kill mosquitoes in standing water, tends to be more effective than "adulticiding," or spraying adults, Boss said.
"How effective [spraying] is is open to debate," Boss said.
Catoosa has long had a mosquito-spraying program. The county only sprays by request, as opposed to entire neighborhoods because some residents don't want insecticide sprayed in front of their homes, said Public Works Operations Manager Carolyn Teems.
Concern about West Nile has prompted more Catoosa residents to request mosquito spraying, Teems said, up from about 265 calls per month in March to about 450 calls per month now.
"People tend to panic when they started hearing about the West Nile," she said. "They started calling more."
Catoosa uses a premixed brand of mosquito spray called Omego Mist that costs about $1,750 a drum, Teems said.
Catoosa Manager Mike Helton said the county has a part-time person who responds to calls for mosquito spraying.
"It's much more affordable that way," Helton said, adding, "It's typically next-day service in our county."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.