Manitoba's changes to mosquito larvicide fund leave rural residents at risk, mayor says

Manitoba's changes to mosquito larvicide fund leave rural residents at risk, mayor says

A change to the way Manitoba's government funds communities to larvicide for West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes has left some communities to come up with the cash on their own.

This year, Carman, Man. — a town about 75 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg — became ineligible for funding to larvicide for Culex tarsalis mosquitoes, which are known to carry the virus, after a provincial review was completed.

"It's irritating that now you've got to find ... the money somewhere in your budget," Carman Mayor Bob Mitchell told CBC News. "That means either increasing your taxes or reduce something else." 

A Manitoba government spokesperson said in a statement that the provincial funding program was changed this year. Now, only communities in a high- or moderate-risk zone with a "sufficiently large treatment area" will be eligible to receive funding as part of the program, the province said. 

The province's new funding model will also mean that some communities are now eligible for increased funding compared with previous years, the province said, and adult mosquito surveillance, or trapping, hasn't been changed from last year.

Mitchell said the town used to receive $2,500 from the province each year. That money paid for the chemicals needed to larvicide, while the town provided the labour. 

He said the town footed the entire bill this year, an expense that wasn't budgeted for when the town's 2017 budget was prepared. 

Changes made to funding program 

The province said the new funding model for mosquito larviciding is a "more efficient use of resources that came as a result of a decade of experience and a better understanding of Culex tarsalis biology."

The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are considered a rural Prairie mosquito and are often attracted to rural farmsteads, villages and towns. They can travel a number of kilometres, even further if aided by the wind.

Mitchell believes cutting the program in some areas could leave residents vulnerable. 

"It puts people at risk for West Nile and that's what the whole program is all about," he said.

The province said increasing larviciding funding this year is still a possibly should the risk of contracting West Nile Virus increase. 

There were 24 human cases of West Nile virus in Manitoba in 2016. Of those, 12 were of the more-severe type, West Nile virus neurological syndrome, according to provincial statistics. 

Mitchell admits that while the $2,500 cost may be a drop in the bucket in the town's $7-million budget, it's the principle that matters.

"We'll find it, but it's just frustrating," Mitchell said.