Villager’s death from West Nile Virus prompts questions from Villages official

Ellen Cora

I was alarmed when I read in villages-news.com about a Fenney Villager’s death from the West Nile Virus. 

Whether the unfortunate victim was bitten here or not, this raises a real concern because, as you know, West Nile, Chikungunya, malaria and other serious dengue-based (potentially life-threatening) mosquito-borne viruses are worrisome. His golfing buddy said he was bitten on the golf course, and became ill days later the perfect incubation period for these types of viruses. While it would be impossible to prove cause and effect clinically, we need to get the word out to our residents, renters and visitors plus people outside The Villages and in neighboring counties as well.  

My husband, Artie, and I have lived in The Villages since 2001, and 2018 was the first year either of us had mosquito bites here. Neighbors and friends here echo this fact. We live across from a large preserve (e.g., wetland, marsh, swamp, bog, fen), as do thousands of Villagers. Sumter County always used to spray our area with non-toxic substances, by truck and sometimes air, quite effectively, and kept us virtually mosquito free.

When we contacted Sumter County Mosquito Control, Herschel Wiley and his successor, some months ago, we were told since last year’s bad storms and Hurricane Irma left water levels in the preserves/marshes so high, they are not permitted by state law to spray the preserves.

Your villages-news.com article recommended using DEET, and taking other protective measures to reduce breeding places but the spraying used to be very successful, and we all relied on it. We used to tell our visitors how well the county protected us from mosquitos. The only places we got bitten years ago was OUTSIDE The Villages.

Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin was the first to respond to my e-mail, saying the county “will continue to operate their mosquito system as a first-line defense measure according to all federal and state regulations. We will also continue to inform residents how they can best protect themselves.” 

My response was to thank Mr. Gilpin but ask for more specifics about what the state and federal laws are vis-a-vis our situation; and specifically what our county officials are allowed (and not allowed) to do.

If it is true we are not permitted to spray open standing water, that regulation needs to be examined and perhaps amended. It is very important to protect our environment but even more important to protect our citizens. The immune systems of some senior citizens are weakened for a variety of reasons and they might be hard-pressed to fight off advanced viral infections of this type. 

While living in a tropical (foreign) country as a young child, I suffered from malaria; and it recurred several times, even later, back in the United States. I can assure you, it is not fun. Back then, there was no known cure and symptoms included fevers as high as 107 degrees. I’m lucky to be alive.

I asked Mr. Gilpin for a pro-active community response from our county commissioners. Although my role on Community Development District 1’s Board of Supervisors has no jurisdiction over county or state government actions we as citizens can bring pressure to ask that current regulations be reviewed, and if needed for health reasons, to be amended. I offered to call a town hall meeting for this purpose if Mr. Gilpin and his colleagues would gather some expert speakers to put our minds at ease.

Villager Ellen Cora serves on the Community Development District 1 Board of Supervisors.