Things that go bump in the night. It’s supposed to refer to the unexplained noises we hear late at night. Things that frightened us. The phrase conjures images of ghouls and monsters.
But in certain parts, it applies to mosquitoes.
That’s because we’ve seen an all-time high of Eastern equine encephalitis infections from virus-carrying mosquitoes. Scientists discovered the virus about 15 years ago. And since then there’s been about 103 people reportedly infected. But this year alone we’ve seen 31 cases — a whopping 30 percent of all known cases. Massachusetts and Michigan have the highest number of cases.
Unfortunately, there’s also been a number of related deaths. At least nine people have died as of Oct. 1. At least one fatality was a farmer near me.
The virus presents as a common cold or flu: fever, headache, chills, aches, and pains. But if it spreads to your spinal column it can cause encephalitis (read: brain swelling). Roughly one-third of people who contract the infection will die. And those who survive can face serious neurological problems for the rest of their life.
So we’ve all been advised to stay indoors from dusk to dawn. Football games and other nighttime activities are being rescheduled. And health officials are recommending people buy the most powerful bug spray possible. It won’t be safe again until we have a hard freeze that kills the mosquitoes.
But isn’t there something else we could do? Yes, spray pesticides!
Several Michigan counties are doing just that: applying aerial pesticides to reduce or eliminate the infected mosquito population. Other states have done the same without incident. Michigan is being quite clear about what is being applied and its safety:
Merus 3.0 which is an organic pesticide containing 5 percent pyrethrin. Pyrethrins are chemicals found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers. They are a mixture of six chemicals that are toxic to insects. Pyrethrins are commonly used to control mosquitoes, fleas, flies, moths, ants and many other pests. Pyrethrins have been registered for use in pesticides since the 1950s.
Yes, that’s right, they’re using an organic pesticide. It’s applied at an ultra-low volume with no toxicity to humans. And even if you’re outside during application, you probably wouldn’t even notice. Yet it’s highly effective at killing mosquitoes.
But people are freaking out. Seriously, freaking out.
It’s the things you usually hear. “It’s going to make us sick.” “It’s going to poison our water.” “It’s going to kill all the bees.” “It’s going to lead to environmental disaster.” “It’s toxic and dangerous.” None of those things are true. No one ever bothers to cite sources (well, because there aren’t any). But everyone is happy to spread fear and misinformation.
And I’m honestly stunned. People are perfectly happy exposing themselves, their children, their friends, and their neighbors to a fatal virus, because they’re more afraid of a safe and effective solution. Go back and read that sentence again. If it isn’t a complete condemnation of our society’s science education, I’m not sure what is.
But this should be a wake-call. People are so afraid of pesticides — organic or not — they’re willing to risk their lives to avoid them. And that means we need to do a better job explaining why we use them, how we use them, and how we know they’re safe.
Because a world where we’re not allowed to use pesticides is actually really scary. Much scarier than anything else that goes bump in the night.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.