Sunday, May 25, 2003

City uses computers to swat mosquitoes

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Computer analyst Forrest Staley is helping orchestrate the city's fight against West Nile virus.

Each day, Staley produces color-coded maps that pinpoint the location of every complaint the Louisville Metro Health Department receives about mosquitoes, which transmit the deadly virus.

On his maps, dots are scattered across the metro area. Health department workers armed with the maps have already started focusing on killing mosquitoes in those areas.

"You start to get clusters," Staley said. "You can almost see where you need to go and treat."

West Nile first appeared in Kentucky in late 2001, but it was last year the virus really made its presence felt. Last year in metro Louisville, 22 people tested positive for the disease and two died.

Admitting the virus last year outpaced efforts to quash it, health officials now are gearing up earlier to combat West Nile - and turning to technology to help.

Metro Louisville officials recently ordered hand-held computer systems that will pinpoint problem areas and record each time a crew applies larvicide.

The intensified effort to stem the spread of the virus comes as experts predict another difficult year combating West Nile.

The Louisville Metro Health Department already is receiving as many as 100 mosquito-related complaints a day.

But officials agree they'll never be able to contain the entire mosquito population. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, and even a bottle cap can be a fertile breeding ground.

By combining all the information, crews can match mosquito complaints with places where the virus has been found and determine which areas get first priority for larvicide treatment.

The targeted efforts would give environmental health workers a jump on preventive efforts before West Nile reaches the levels it did last year.

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