Mosquito abatement officials in Placer County say they won't be conducting aerial spraying on populated areas to combat West Nile virus.
They gave the assurance Thursday at a community forum in Roseville, alleviating the fears of several residents who are opposed to spraying that's intended to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes.
"I know the Sacramento officials said it was harmless," said Angela Adler of Auburn. "But no pesticide is harmless. I was exposed to spraying as a kid, and I spent a lot of time in the hospital."
Rocklin resident Grant Withers said he attended the forum because he didn't want aerial spraying in Placer County without the public being aware of it.
"I'm not so worried about West Nile virus," he said. "It's no worse than the annual flu bug. It's the spraying that concerns me. I think it's risky."
Officials for the Placer Mosquito Abatement District said the agency actually does conduct some spraying to kill off mosquito larvae. But it's done in the rice fields of Sutter and Yuba counties, they said.
"We don't spray over homes," said Jamesina Scott, the district's vector ecologist. "We go to the rice fields to stop the migratory routes of the mosquitoes. We think our approach is a good one."
Through Thursday, the district was aware of four cases in Placer County in which people had been infected with West Nile virus.
One of those was an asymptomatic blood donor, Scott said. The other three were recovering from the disease, she said.
Five equine cases had been detected, she said. In one of the incidents, the horse had to be euthanized, Scott said. Two gray squirrels in Auburn and Granite Bay were found dead and tested positive for West Nile, she said.
The toll also included 51 dead birds infected with West Nile, Scott said. Thirty-one of the birds were found in Roseville, and seven were discovered in Granite Bay, she said.
Scott said 12 pools of mosquitoes in western Placer County tested positive for the virus along with at least 21 sentinel chickens, which are nonmigratory and develop antibodies to the virus and are used to track whether disease-carrying mosquitoes are in the area.
In Sacramento, as of Thursday, the statistics showed 47 human cases, 15 equine cases, 35 dead birds and 93 mosquito pools, Scott said.
Michael Mulligan, assistant public health officer for Placer County, said his agency and the Placer Mosquito Abatement District began preparing for West Nile virus two to three years ago when the disease began spreading west.
Birds carry the disease and transmit it to mosquitoes that bite them. The infected mosquitoes then transmit it to animals or humans.
"Colorado was hard hit in 2003, and this gave us some lead time to prepare," Mulligan said.
Placer officials established a task force that formed a game plan to combat the disease, he said.
Officials used the catchy phrase "Fight the bite" in hopes of educating local residents to prepare for mosquitoes and the pending arrival of West Nile virus.
Besides educating the public, the plan included using sentinel chickens, spraying in rice fields, checking storm drains, giving away mosquito fish to residents and setting up telephone hotlines.
"We feel we were very well-prepared," Mulligan said.
Charles Dill, manager of the abatement district, urged local residents to eliminate standing water in their yards since mosquitoes breed in pools of water.
"People call us about mosquitoes in wetlands," Dill said. "We know the wetlands are there. We can see them. That's easy. The hard part is your backyard. We can't see those."
Dill said mosquitoes can breed in unmaintained swimming pools, birdbaths, discarded tires and children's toys.
"It's the backyard sources that get the least attention," he said.
Adler, the only resident to speak at Thursday's forum, which drew about a dozen people to the Roseville City Council chambers, said she was pleased that aerial spraying over populated areas is not being done.
"I don't think it's an effective way of fighting mosquitoes," she said. "I'm concerned over the neurological effects and liver ailments that pesticides can lead to in people."
The Placer district said it uses insecticides containing piperonyl butoxide in its spraying in fields or in storm drains.
Adler handed out reading material she gleaned from the Internet about the chemical's potential effects on humans. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and labored breathing, the material said.
Scott said her district is trying to be careful not to harm the public with pesticides.
"We try to minimize our use of pesticides," she said. "But all districts have to use some of it. We believe that controlling the larvae is the key to controlling the mosquitoes."
A television replay of Thursday's community forum hosted by the Placer Mosquito Abatement District can be viewed this week on Channel 14 by Comcast customers and Channel 73 by SureWest customers.
* Sunday -7 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 9 p.m.
* Monday -7 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m.
* Tuesday -12:15 a.m., 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m.
* Wednesday -7 a.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m.
* Thursday -12:15 a.m., 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m.
* Friday -7 a.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., 11 p.m.
A replay also can be viewed on www.roseville.ca.us. Click on the "Fight the Bite" news story on the home page. Further details about the West Nile Virus can be found at www.placermosquito.org and www.placer.ca.gov/wnv.
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- The Bee's Art Campos can be reached at (916) 773-2825 or email@example.com.