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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Villagers must demand answers about mosquito nightmare in wake of West Nile Virus death

By now we’re sure that most area residents know that a Villager died last month of the West Nile Virus after being bitten by a mosquito in The Villages.

Don Roberts, 74, passed away Jan. 16 at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. In addition to West Nile Virus, his death certificate lists septic shock and pneumonia as contributing factors.

Don and Sharlene Roberts

Roberts and his wife, Sharlene, moved to The Villages in 2007 from New Palestine, Ind., settling in a Village of Caroline home. Don enjoyed playing golf and was recently on a course in the Village of Fenney. Afterward, he and his golfing buddies spent some time at the nearby fire pit in the neighborhood that is surrounded by marshes – the preferred breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

Sharlene and the couple’s two children – one lives in Denver and the other in Indiana – are still reeling from the loss of a loving husband and father. They would have celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary this year in the community they chose to live in while enjoying the best years of their lives.

But while Sharlene mourns the loss of her husband, she also says it’s important to make sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again. She is convinced that Don suffered the fatal mosquito bite in The Villages, as the couple hadn’t done any traveling outside the area for quite some time. And since West Nile symptoms usually appear anywhere from two to 21 days after the bite of an infected mosquito, she has it narrowed down quite well.

Don Roberts’ death certificate shows he had suffered for weeks from West Nile Virus.

Every Villager should heed Sharlene’s advice – we commend her for thinking of others in such a time of grief – and quickly become educated about the West Nile Virus. They should read about tips to protect themselves by clicking HERE. And they should steer clear of areas where mosquitoes are known to breed.

Villagers also should plan to attend a meeting Thursday, Feb. 28, where the topics will include mosquito spraying. The gathering will begin at noon and is scheduled to last until 3 p.m. at the Fenney Recreation Center. The meeting will feature Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin and promises to be well attended, so Villagers are encouraged to arrive early to get a seat.

Community Development District 1 Supervisor Ellen Cora, in a Feb. 21 piece she wrote for Villages-News.com, said she was told by officials from Sumter County Mosquito Control that since last year’s bad storms and Hurricane Irma left water levels in the preserves/marshes so high, they aren’t permitted by state law to spray them.

The Village of Fenney contains marshlands where mosquitoes are known to breed.

Cora also wrote that Gilpin was the first to respond to her email, saying that 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.”

We’re not exactly sure what that means but we’re hoping residents get some good, solid answers at Thursday’s meeting. Hopefully, it won’t be one of those typical government meetings where a whole lot of words are used but nothing is really said. Villagers have every reason to be concerned and scared and they deserve to receive solid information from the people they’ve elected and the county that happily collects their taxes.

A meeting about mosquito spraying will be held Thursday, Feb. 28 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Fenney Recreation Center. Villagers are encouraged to arrive early to get a seat.

While we’re at it, we’d also like to point out that the Sumter County Health Department didn’t do residents any favors last month when officials wouldn’t confirm that West Nile Virus had been a factor in a death in The Villages.

Instead, they chose to hide behind a bunch of mumbo jumbo with this statement from Daniel Chacreton, operations & management consultant manager: Unfortunately, we can’t release any confidential information about the cases we investigate. This would be a violation of the individual’s HIPAA privacy rights. Those are rights that we take very seriously.”

Please. Shouldn’t we, as citizens, be able to count on a department with the word “health” in its title to look out for our well-being? Since we pay the taxes that keep people like Chacreton employed, shouldn’t we expect to receive pertinent information about the fact that a Villager died of a mosquito-borne illness?

Nature trail in the Village of Fenney

Let’s face it, telling us that a West Nile Virus-related death of a Villager had occurred without releasing the name of the victim clearly wouldn’t have been a HIPAA violation. But in these days where fear of the almighty lawsuit tops common sense, it’s much easier for government organizations to take the cop-out route and hide behind HIPAA laws. And whether they agree with that statement or not, that’s exactly what officials with your local health department did last month.

Here’s the bottom line: Once those taxpayer-funded health department officials knew that a Villager’s death had occurred from the West Nile Virus, it should have been plastered everywhere. Villagers should have been told immediately and encouraged to take precautions. And once it was known that the mosquito bite most likely came in the Fenney area, county officials should have been all over the state about getting some kind of spraying program started.

It’s a terrible tragedy that Sharlene Roberts lost her husband because he was bitten by a mosquito that was allowed to breed in high water. If, in fact, the state has some kind of regulations against spraying those marshes – even in the wake of a death caused by West Nile Virus – then something is terribly wrong and needs to be fixed, especially when we’re talking about a neighborhood surrounded by marsh land.

There are plenty of large bodies of water in the Village of Fenney, many left behind by bad storms and Hurricane Irma last year.

We won’t get into the million-dollar question of why a mega-retirement community – one that caters to older folks who statistically have weaker immune systems than younger people – would locate a neighborhood around a mosquito breeding ground. Only the powers-that-be in the Brownwood executive offices can answer that question.

But we will say that we think it’s a shame that the health department and the Villages Developer didn’t jump on this topic more than a month ago with warnings and information Villagers needed to know.

One might ask, where is The Villages’ bought-and-paid-for state legislator when we need him?

Unfortunately, we aren’t surprised by the appearance of an effort to just sweep the entire thing under the rug and keep selling homes near the marshland. But we are terribly disappointed and find it disturbing at best.

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