County is a hotbed for mosquito borne viruses

By Charlie Warner
Argus Editor

The Coulee Region is located in the hotbed of the mosquito borne disease area of the Upper Midwest. These diseases include the La Crosse and West Nile viruses, as well as Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks.

Caledonia is located right in the bull’s eye for mosquito borne diseases, according to La Crosse County Vector Control Manager Dave Geske.

Geske attended last week’s Houston County Board meeting and brought the commissioners up to speed as far as what Geske and company has been doing to battle these very serious diseases.

The La Crosse County Vector Control Program has worked with surrounding counties for over 30 years to reduce vectors (breeding spots) for mosquito borne diseases. The program originated in 1980 when Houston and Winona counties in Minnesota and La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon and Crawford counties in Wisconsin formed a multi-county arbovirus control program, which targeted mosquito vectors carrying the La Crosse virus (LACV).

“These six counties historically reported the highest number of clinically diagnosed cases of LACV in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Geske noted. “From 1969 to 1979 the annual number of clinically diagnosed cases of LACV reported in these six counties ranged from a low of 20 to a high of 40 with the average of approximately 27 cases annual.

“In the 10 years following the formation of the multi-county control program, the six counties averaged 7.6 clinically diagnosed cases. Since 1990 the average number has dropped to under three per year,” Geske added, proving the success of the program.

The program has grown to now include 21 surrounding counties, municipalities and the Ho Chunk Nation in Wisconsin. Each of those units of government provide funding to the program through an annual donation. Houston County’s donation to the program was $2,960 in 2012.

While the death rate is low, the medical care required from a single mosquito bite that results in LACV, encephalitis or West Nile can exceed $400,000 and be a life-long medical issue.

Geske utilizes the talent and energy of numerous college students who help set and monitor mosquito traps throughout the region. The students compile the mosquito counts and put them into an annual report.

Geske and his students also inspect the region looking for man-made or artificial breeding grounds. Tires, buckets and other containers act as an excellent habitat for mosquitoes. Geske noted that unrimmed tires can produce far greater numbers of mosquitoes than natural habitat.

By providing information to area residents, Geske said the artificial breeding grounds have been reduced and with that the number of cases of LACV and West Nile have been reduced drastically.

“The general public has been very supportive of our program,” Geske said. “When we point out the potential breeding areas, people work with us to get rid of them.”

Geske added that he wanted to thank the residents of Houston County, as well as the county board for their support of this program.

In other board action:

New medical examiner’s site?

The board listened to a half-hour presentation on the possibility of changing medical examiner services from the Regina Medical Center in Hastings to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Dr. Lindsay Thomas of the Hastings facility explained that the Regina Medical Center facility has out-lived its usefulness. It was built 25 years ago, has limited space that can no longer accommodate the number of cases that the eight Southeast Minnesota counties using the facility generate, and that the best solution would be contracting for services with Hennepin County.

Dr. Andy Baker of Hennepin County said the Minneapolis facility has capacity for 30 bodies, while the Hastings location’s capacity is six. He went on to provide information on a multitude of services Hennepin County offers that the facility in Hastings doesn’t.

Dr. Thomas, who was working at the Hastings facility 25 years ago when it was built, said she strongly recommends that Houston County move forward with the other seven counties in moving their autopsy  cases to Hennepin County.

Board Chairman Jack Miller asked Thomas if the other seven counties currently contracting with Regina have heard the presentation. Thomas said the proposal has been presented to six of the counties, including Dakota County, which has more than half the population of the eight counties.

It was noted that there are no forensic pathologists in La Crosse and autopsies are conducted in Madison for Wisconsin jurisdictions.

In 2010 Houston County budgeted $47,848 for medical examiner fees at Regina. According to Houston County Coroner Mike Poelinger, there were 55 deaths investigated in Houston County, of which 10 were sent to Hastings for autopsies.

“We really don’t have a choice here, do we?” Miller asked. “We pretty much have to go along with the other seven counties.”

Baker said once all eight of the counties have been contacted, they will be able to put some numbers together as far as the cost for each county. As in the past, the cost per county will be calculated on each county’s population.

Personnel issues

HR Director Tess Arrick Kruger brought a number of staffing issues before the board. They included:

• Accepting the resignation of Marge Storlie as a home health aide, effective May 30.

• Approve the change of employment status of Amanda Myhre from part-time home health aide to a roster home health aide effective May 4.

• Approve the change of employment status of Erin Bauer from roster home health aide to a 75 percent (30 hours/week) part-time home health aide effective May 7.

• Accept the resignation of  adult mental health social worker Karen Meier effective May 4.

• Approve the advertising for two social worker positions, one to replace Meier and the other to fill a previous open position.

The board unanimously approved these requests.

Kruger then asked the board to approve the hiring of two 67-day dropsite supervisors. They were Jack Benson, at an entry level salary of $11.52 an hour and Terry Botcher, who has worked for the county for 20 years, at $14.40 an hour. The board unanimously approved that request.

The final request made by Kruger was to change the employment status of assistant custodian Kathleen Lager from probationary to regular effective May 9. The board unanimously approved the request.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]