Published September 26, 2012
Funding still declining, but West Nile virus remains an issue
By Jeremy Selweski jSelweski@candgnews.com
BERKLEY — Like other cities in Oakland County, Berkley takes steps each year to combat the West Nile virus, but its funding from the county has steadily declined over the last several years.
At its Sept. 17 meeting, the Berkley City Council voted unanimously to authorize a reimbursement request for West Nile expenses totaling a projected $2,093. The funds are provided annually by the Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) to municipalities across the county.
According to Public Works Director Derrick Schueller, the reimbursement funds are used to pay for the city’s material costs. Each May, the Department of Public Works places larvicide briquettes in the approximately 1,500 catch basins throughout the city, where West Nile-carrying mosquitoes like to congregate and breed.
Those county funds have been on the decline for a number of years, however. As recently as 2008, Berkley received more than $5,200 annually to help prevent the virus from proliferating in the city.
“It’s ironic that with the West Nile virus getting a lot of attention this year because the numbers are up, the county has been cutting back that program every year,” Schueller told the council. “In fact, they were worried that they would not get any funding at all this year. The fear is that at some point this program will go away (completely), so they’ve just been cutting at it piece by piece.”
Mayor Phil O’Dwyer pointed out that funding reductions like these are a big reason why city officials asked Berkley voters to approve a 3-mill Headlee override in August.
“I knew that my colleagues would be very quick to see, once again, a cut in revenue coming from somewhere,” he said. “It seems to be a pattern up here that every time money is coming in from the federal government, the state or the county, it’s less and less and less. And that makes it so much more important that the residents of our city were so wise last month in voting for that millage.”
Berkley’s projected expenditures for its 2012 West Nile virus program are just over $38,000, the majority of which will go toward labor costs for cleaning out the catch basins prior to dropping in the larvicide briquettes. At one point, Schueller said, the county provided funding to cover some labor costs for cities, but that is no longer the case.
As Councilman Steve Baker noted, “Even though we have less funding coming in this time around, we still have to do the same amount of work. The number of sewers that we have hasn’t changed, and the number of catch basins that we have hasn’t changed. It’s just the amount of reimbursement that has changed.”
Kathy Forzley, manager and health officer for the OCHD, explained that West Nile reimbursement funding consists of revenue from the county’s general fund budget. As that revenue source — which is divided up among Oakland County municipalities, based on their population and geographic size — has declined, so has the amount of money given out to each community.
“Those funds have been reduced just like everyone else’s budget has been reduced,” Forzley said. “We have all had to tighten our belts in this economy.”
Forzley added that the level of awareness about the West Nile virus throughout Oakland County has increased substantially since it first emerged in Michigan a decade ago.
“We all need to take precautions to prevent this virus, but the problem is not at the same level that it used to be,” she said. “In the past, cities used to devote some of these funds to community newsletters or campaigns; that’s no longer necessary these days. The message is already out there now, so we just try to do a broad reminder for people every year.”
There have been four times as many reported cases of the West Nile virus in Michigan this year compared with years past, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH). While there were just 29 cases throughout the state in 2010 and 34 in 2011, this year has already seen 125 cases through Sept. 5. Forzley said that as of Sept. 20, there have been 21 reported cases in Oakland County alone.
Although Jennifer Thomas, a 36-year-old Royal Oak resident, recently talked to C & G Newspapers about contracting West Nile, it is unknown at this time how many of those 21 cases have come from Berkley and the surrounding communities. Forzley stated that the OCHD does not disclose the city of residence of individuals who have been infected with the virus.
“We don’t release any of that information because it’s not really relevant to keeping track of West Nile,” she explained. “Where somebody lives doesn’t tell us a lot about where they first may have encountered the virus. They could have been bitten by that mosquito anywhere.”
Only 20 percent of people affected by West Nile show mild symptoms, such as fever, headaches, muscle weakness, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. In addition, only one in 150 people show advanced symptoms, such as high fever, severe headaches, stiff neck, confusion, tremors, coma, paralysis and death. “You might have it and not even know you have it,” Forzley said.
According to the MDCH, West Nile was first detected in Michigan humans in August 2002. Forzley noted that residents over age 50 are most vulnerable to contracting the virus, but people of all ages need to protect themselves against it by minimizing their contact with mosquitoes.
Typical strategies include using insect repellant, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, avoiding shady and/or wooded areas, limiting outdoor activity between dusk and dawn, maintaining screens on home windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out, and eliminating areas of standing water on your property.
Forzley stressed that just because the fall season has arrived doesn’t mean that the West Nile virus is no longer a concern this year.
“We don’t want people to let their guard down,” she said. “We won’t really be out of the woods until we’ve at least had a good, hard frost or two. We still need to be diligent to prevent this virus from spreading.”