West Nile: Is Spraying Pesticides Worse?

by Christina Toomey on February 19, 2014

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2012. Photograph. UAB ResearchWeb. 18 Feb 2014. .

West Nile infection is caused by a virus that is transmitted to humans by mosquitos. Although there is no vaccination or treatment for West Nile Virus, most people who do become infected show little to no symptoms. The Center for Disease Control describes this virus as relatively unharmful since only about 1-5 people infected will develop a fever with other symptoms and less than 1% of them will develop the serious or fatal neurological illnesses that come with this virus. The only way to potentially protect oneself from infection is to wear long clothes when in areas heavily populated with mosquitos, use insect repellent and to live in areas where pesticides are used. Within the United States, areas that have high rates of the West Nile Virus include California, Colorado, Nebraska and North and South Dakota.

Using pesticides to kill adult mosquitos is known as adulticiding. The California Department of Health Services states that adulticiding is the only way to control the enormous population of mosquitos. Since the West Nile Virus can be seen as an epidemic by some physicians, the use of adulticiding to lower the mosquito population has been deemed necessary in many areas to control the virus. However, the real question is if this “epidemic” is really an excuse to be using harmful chemicals that can affect both humans and our environment.

A group of concerned citizens living in Sacramento, California have been campaigning to prove that this process of adulticiding is not only ineffective in killing mosquitos, but it is also quit damaging to humans. There are a variety of sprays that can be used in this process of adulticiding, many of which have each been proven to cause some type of harm to exposed humans.  Some of the potential health effects that have been documented include difficulty breathing, tremors, exhaustion, dermal effects, asthma, dizziness and headaches. Although people have experienced many more symptoms then just these noted, the consequences from these sprays alone seem to affect more people than those affected by symptoms of West Nile Virus. Not only this, but these sprays have not even been proven to work at effectively killing mosquitos since they can quickly rebound and return to their normal numbers.

Since West Nile Virus only severely affects 1% of the population and in 2011 there were only 9 deaths recorded from infection in California, this virus should not be considered an epidemic. The toxic effects on both individuals who must spray these chemicals and individuals who come in contact with the chemicals show that adulticiding should not be used as a method to control the West Nile Virus. The ineffectiveness of this process, along with detrimental environmental effects, demonstrates that a better process must be used to control this problem. Furthermore, these sprays can be very damaging to beneficial insects that may not have good recovery like mosquitos do. From this we can also see the negative effects these chemicals can have on other species that may come into contact by eating food sources that have been sprayed. The use of adulticiding will continue to affect the surrounding ecosystem and could eventually pose a huge threat to a species that can’t combat these chemicals. It is important to look at the ecosystem as a whole because each component is equally essential. When the environment loses just one component, other species and plants that are involved in this ecosystem and rely on this component are then at risk of becoming extinct to. Our environment is already fragile at this time from all of the pollution, chemicals, overuse and wastes that we dump on it every day, so the use of ineffective chemical spraying needs to be reevaluated.


1. Center for Disease Control, . “West Nile Virus.” Center of Disease Controls and Prevention. N.p., 07 Jan 2014. Web. 11 Feb 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/index.html>.

2. California Department of Health Services, . “Safety of Pesticides Used to Control Adult Mosquitoes.” California Department of Health Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2014. <http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/factshts/safety_of_pesticide.pdf>.

3. “Stop West Nile Spraying Now.” Stop West Nile Spraying Now. N.p.. Web. 10 Feb 2014. <http://www.stopwestnilesprayingnow.org/>.

4.  U.S Department of Interior, . “West Nile Virus Human 2013.” U.S Geological Survey. N.p., 07 Jan 2014. Web. 10 Feb 2014. <http://diseasemaps.usgs.gov/wnv_us_human.html>.

5. 2012. Photograph. UAB ResearchWeb. 18 Feb 2014. <http://themixuab.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-hard-should-i-worry-about-west-nile.html>.







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