Government leaders are looking at new ways to combat the West Nile virus. A new plan is coming in response to warnings that this year, the West Nile virus will strike harder and earlier than last year, and also that people in the Great Lakes region will have to be prepared to make some lifestyle changes. Some environmentalists and local public health authorities say the plan is too little, too late. And as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports, some victims of the virus are angry that not enough has been done until now:
Government leaders are looking at new ways to combat the West Nile virus. A new plan is
coming in response to warnings that this year the West Nile virus will strike harder and earlier
than last year, and also that people in the Great Lakes region will have to be prepared to make
some lifestyle changes. Some environmentalists, and local public health authorities say the plan
is too little, too late. And as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports, some
victims of the virus are angry that not enough has been done until now:
(sounds of indoor golf)
About twenty golfers are using this indoor golf driving range to get their game in shape just
weeks before they’ll be able to enjoy playing outdoors.
But along with the nicer golf weather will come this year’s first assault by mosquito populations,
some of which are sure to carry the West Nile virus.
Like the general public most of these golfers have a mixed reaction to the dangers posed by West
(montage of golfers)
It was only two years ago that the West Nile Virus had been found in a few dead crows in North
America. Now it’s spread across much of the continent and it’s blamed directly for killing dozens
of people and infecting hundreds of others.
Last fall, Ontario’s medical officer of health, Colin D’Cunha, gave this statement when questioned
about the spread of West Nile.
“I don’t view this as cause for alarm. And I have to remind people that the serious signs and
symptoms are seen in less than one percent of people who come down with West Nile virus
infection. And to put it in context remember that the flu kills about nineteen hundred Canadians
Victims says it was that kind of comment from a health official that caused them not to be overly
Vern Thomson became infected with the virus during his daughter’s wedding rehearsal in the
backyard of his Mississaugua home, just west of Toronto.
His wife Huguette says within days he was paralyzed and almost died. She says there wasn’t
enough warning about what West Nile could do.
“We knew there were a couple of crows that had died and I mean we knew that West Nile virus
was coming. But unfortunately we trusted our elected officials to inform us how near it was. I
mean, just because a couple of crows had died. Of course we didn’t pay that much attention to it.”
Her husband still has not fully recovered from the virus.
Tropical disease experts also raised alarms about the dangers of West Nile. Some say the Ontario
government played down the threat last year and kept crucial information out of the public
According to official Ontario government data, there were 374 West Nile cases in the province
last year. But some experts say that number was at least one thousand.
Recently Ontario announced a seven-point plan to fight the spread of West Nile virus. It includes
more surveillance, a public education campaign, mosquito controls, and more money for research.
But when the province’s health minister, Tony Clement, and the chief medical officer, Colin
D’Cunha, attended the news conference to unveil the plan, they ran into an angry Huguette
“I want to tell you I was in the hospital sitting next to my husband that was dying of West Nile
virus and I was so appalled by your comments doctor.”
“Well Ma’am, I want to assure you that Dr. D’Cunha…”
“I am telling you exactly that people did not take this seriously because of your comments.”
“Ma’am I want to assure you that whenever we were approached, our actions and our commentary
were to take this seriously, there is no question.”
“You’re too late with your plan.”
But health minister Tony Clement insists there was no attempt to downplay the seriousness of the
“We made it clear that everyone who does not protect themselves is taking a risk, and it is our
intention this year, as we look ahead, now that we have more information, now that we have the
experience of last year, to move ahead with our seven-point plan, and to make sure that Ontarians
are as protected as anyone else in North America.”
But complaints also came from local medical officers, who say they’re disappointed with the
amount of money the province has put into the plan.
Environmentalists are also disappointed.
Katrina Miller is with the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
“I think that the response to this point has been this kind of immediate, hurry-up crisis
management response instead of a long term plan to deal with a disease that we know is here to
stay. We need permanent measures of control, not toxic measures of control that we have to keep
applying. If we used a larvacide, if we use adulticides, we have to keep putting them out there,
and we don’t know how effective they’re going to be.”
Tropical disease experts are now warning people to brace for this year’s onslaught of West Nile
virus. They say it will come earlier and hit harder this spring.
They say birds dying of the virus in April or early May will greatly increase the risk of it
spreading across the continent, infecting tens of thousands of people.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk.