State may cut West Nile funding

It gets hot in Butte County in the summer, and with the heat come mosquitos—and with them the West Nile virus. Local officials are worried, however, that the state is about to severely cut its funding for virus control, from the $10 million currently proposed to just $3 million.

Last year the state spent $12 million for West Nile virus control, and still 19 people statewide died from the disease and more than 900 became ill. The State Budget Conference Committee is currently studying the $10 million allocation for 2006, which comes with a recommendation from the Department of Finance that it be cut to $3 million.

For the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District, a cut to $3 million would mean a loss of $200,000 from its $319,000 state allocation, said Jim Camy, the district’s manager.

The Department of Finance contends that the full $10 million is not needed because West Nile virus is in the third year of its cycle, and other states have not had problems in the third year.

Other experts are responding, however, that the department’s position is, in effect, a crap shoot. That “'third-year decline’ often doesn’t occur,” said Roger Nasci, Ph.D., the West Nile virus expert at the Centers for Disease Control. Arguing that the virus’ impact will decline in 2006 “is an inaccurate and inappropriate conclusion.”

Camy says there’s no telling when the virus will show up. “Last year we found our first case [of West Nile Virus] in the last week of [June],” he said. “It could be this week that we start seeing an increase; we just don’t know.”

Butte County is an ideal incubator of mosquitos, he explained. “We have about 100,000 acres of rice farms and 50,000 acres of wetlands. The weather is also a huge factor. If it stays cool, who knows, maybe we won’t have as big of a problem. If the weather warms up in July and August, we could have the same problem as last year. No one knows.

“We just won’t have the funding for the pesticides or be able to replace any old equipment we have,” Camy continued."We expect [West Nile Virus] to be bad. You can’t wait until you have an epidemic to throw money at it. We just don’t know what to expect.”