To the editor:
I am writing in response to John Jemison’s editorial in the fall MOF&G. As chair of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, he wrote that the West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus are “often fatal or leave victims with permanent neurological damage.” He was writing in defense of proposed changes to a 2007 rule, to apparently remove the requirement to get a property owner’s permission before applying pesticides. “We needed to alter the rule to allow the state to protect its citizens,” referring to the perceived need for widespread pesticide application should WNV or EEE outbreaks occur.
All of that sounds potentially reasonable, but only because his comments suggest these infections are much more dangerous than either one really is. The CDC websites at http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/symptoms/index.html and http://www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/tech/epi.html give a more accurate picture:
For Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), “only about 4-5% of human EEEV infections result in EEE ... In the United States, an average of 6 human cases of EEE are reported annually.” Apparently it is quite rare, is not becoming more common, and does not usually cause death or neurological disease.
As for WNV, “Most people (70-80%) who become infected with West Nile Virus do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with … headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash … Less than 1% of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis … About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die.” This means less than 0.1 percent of people who get infected will die and less than 1 percent are at risk for serious neurological damage. It appears that Mr. Jemison’s argument about the potential need for widespread insecticide application is significantly undermined by his use of some extremely inaccurate statistics.
– Bob Lodato, Charleston