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CDC Reports Insecticide Illnesses

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Mosquito spraying in nine states apparently sickened 133 people from 1999 to 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The CDC report, based on data from states with pesticide-monitoring programs, comes as cities, counties and states across the country are spraying or debating whether to do so, in part to combat the West Nile virus.

Several counties in southern and coastal Georgia are spraying, as is Clayton County in metro Atlanta. Other Atlanta-area counties may spray if many people contract West Nile, officials have said.

This year's first two human West Nile cases were confirmed this week in South Carolina and Texas, the CDC said. The virus infected about 4,100 people and killed 284 last year.

Of the 133 mosquito-spray illnesses reported by the CDC, more than 70 percent involved "organophosphate" insecticides, primarily malathion.

Only one case was considered severe: a 54-year-old woman whose asthma and pulmonary disease were exacerbated by exposure to the insecticide sumithrin, which passed into her home through window fans and a window air conditioner.

Nearly two-thirds of the people sought medical care, including 45 patients treated in emergency rooms. Most cases involved respiratory or neurologic problems, but others included illnesses related to the stomach, eyes, skin and heart.

Twenty-nine of the cases were linked to a single event, when a truck inadvertently sprayed spectators, players and a coach at a softball game in New York in 2001.

The CDC classified 80 percent of the cases as "possible," meaning there was less evidence linking symptoms to insecticide exposure than the 20 percent of cases labeled "definite" or "probable."

The states studied were Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Mosquito spraying should be used only in conjunction with other, less-hazardous efforts to reduce mosquitoes, such as depositing larvae-killing pellets in breeding areas and draining stagnant water, the CDC said.

Georgia's rainy spring has apparently delayed the onset of the mosquito species most likely to carry West Nile in the state, said Rosmarie Kelly, a medical entomologist with the Georgia Division of Public Health.

The Southern house mosquito prefers muddy pools that heavy rains wipe out. But recent conditions have been more to its liking, she said.

"West Nile," Kelly said, "may get shoved back a month here this year."

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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