Zika virus worries? NC’s mosquito program eliminated thanks to budget cuts

Mark Binker at has a story this afternoon that offers a classic example of what happens when the policies enacted (and driven) by tax cut zealots cause public structures to be dismantled:

— North Carolina lacks the ability to track and combat the spread of mosquitoes as the Zika virus that has been blamed for brain-damaged babies in Brazil makes its way into the United States, according to the state’s chief epidemiologist.

“Our biggest limitation is that mosquito surveillance and control is very limited in this state,” Megan Davies, epidemiology section chief in the North Carolina Division of Public Health told the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee on Thursday. “There used to be funding for localities to do mosquito control that is no longer available.”

Two different programs aimed at controlling mosquitoes and other pests were pared back, and then finally eliminated, under Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, as both governors and the General Assembly struggled to get a hold on budget shortfalls that were symptoms of the recession.

In 2010, Perdue and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly made the first cut to grants that helped local governments control mosquitoes. In 2011, a Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to eliminate the “vector control program,” which monitored and analyzed the spread of mosquitoes as part of what is now the Department of Environmental Quality. The last of the mosquito control grants for local governments were eliminated in 2014.”

And while the story notes that Bev Perdue presided over the beginning of the program cuts, it should be noted that she did this in an environment in which conservatives were fighting her tooth and nail over every effort she made to find new revenues to pay for important programs. And clearly, it was the current conservative leaders who finished the program off.

The bottom line: The cuts to the mosquito program are emblematic of the disinvestment in all sorts of essential — often life-saving — public structures that conservatives have pushed on North Carolina in recent years. Think about that fact this summer when you’re lathering up with extra bug spray and ask yourself what would make you feel a greater sense of “freedom”: a few bucks in income tax cuts or the knowledge that public servants were working hard to protect you and your loved ones from a dangerous disease?


Clean air advocate: Polluter Protection Act will harm health of North Carolinians

The so-called “regulatory reform” bill  (aka the “Polluter Protection Act”) that’s been wending its way through the General Assembly this year contains a laundry list of provisions that would weaken important environmental protection laws and regulations. Laura Wenzel of the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air program at Clean Air Carolina details some of the most troubling in this “must read” op-ed:

H765 and Air Quality: Jones Street has it in for the Joneses

By Laura Wenzel, MSW

Air pollution impacts our lives in surprising ways, and some of the worst impacts don’t happen all at once, but as a gradual accumulation of stresses. Unfortunately, a bill currently being negotiated in the NC General Assembly boosts the harms of air pollution in just this way: a series of weakening changes that add up to bigger risks to our kids, our families, and ourselves.

H765, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, includes provisions that threaten air, water, and land. But to understand just the air quality provisions, let’s consider what H765 does to the hypothetical Jones family.

The Jones family includes Tonya, a pregnant woman; her six-year-old son Joseph; and her mother, Pauline. Their neighborhood is adjacent to a warehouse district, where heavy trucks travel daily. Currently, unless a truck’s engine is required for an operation like refrigeration, the truck is not allowed to idle for more than five minutes. This not only saves wear on the truck’s engine, it prevents diesel pollution from concentrating in the area. However, H765 repeals the anti-idling rule, allowing truckers to idle their vehicles for an unlimited amount of time.

This is bad news for the fetus that Tonya Jones is carrying. Read more


Time for public health action

After reading this fact sheet from the American Public Health Association (APHA), it is apparent that NC policymakers need to take action in order to improve our state’s public health. If our state legislators were assigned a grade for how they are investing in NC’s public health, it would not be a passing grade. The following statistics show there is much room for improving NC’s public health rankings:

  • Ranks 8th for prevalence of diabetes amongst adults.
  • Ranks 47th for the availability of dentists.
  • Ranks 10th for infant mortality.
  • Ranks 47th for the amount invested in each person’s public health needs. NC spends $11.73 per year per resident.
  • Ranks 5th for the number of children living in poverty.

While these numbers are unimpressive at best, there are some public health areas that NC has improved on. First, the high school graduation rate has improved, but then again the Senate budget proposes tax cuts that lower the number of teacher assistants, which could negate the progress made. Second, NC has made great progress in reducing air pollution, but then again the House wants to cut auto emissions tests in some counties.

Even though the sequester led to significant cuts in public health funding, there is federal funding available to address the poor rankings listed above. NC could receive funding to help the following:

Fifteen percent of North Carolinians are uninsured and 500,000 people are in the Medicaid coverage gap. These are people that could seek primary preventative health care that will yield better health outcomes such as prenatal and maternity care to ensure healthy outcomes after childbirth. Research has shown that children eligible for Medicaid miss fewer school days, have higher educational attainment. and their families have more financial security. There are also 150,000 people in NC in the coverage gap with mental health and substance use disorders that need ongoing treatment. The Affordable Care Act has written into law that the federal government will cover 100% of Medicaid expansion costs until 2016 and up to 90 percent of costs starting 2020. Ensuring coverage to one half million North Carolinians is one public health act that will pull NC up the rankings.


Another huge success for vaccines: Rubella eradicated in the Americas

Tech Times has another story this morning that you can mention the next time some troubled soul tries to tell you that government should stop requiring vaccines in order to combat infectious diseases and protect the public health:

Health Officials Declare Rubella Completely Eradicated In The Americas

Rubella, also known as German measles, a disease considered a grave risk to unborn children, has been eliminated from the Americas, a scientific panel says.

Medical experts say the successful elimination of the contagious viral disease is a historic achievement for North and South America, on a level with the elimination of smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

With the success of mass vaccination programs, the last endemic cases of rubella in the Americas were in Brazil and Argentina in 2009.

With no cases declared during five consecutive years, the Americas have been declared free of the rubella virus, says Carissa Etienne, head of the Pan-American Health Organization, a part of the World Health Organization.”

The story also notes that:

“Measles were eliminated in the Americas in 2002, but a rise of the number of children unvaccinated over parents’ fears of autism from the MMR vaccination has allowed imported cases to cause outbreaks in the U.S., such as the one traced to Disneyland in California in late 2014.”


When conservatism turns to paranoia: Rand Paul channels his inner John Birch

Sen. Rand Paul - Photo: Facebook

Sen. Rand Paul – Photo: Facebook

In the mid-20th Century, conservatives fulminated about the “monstrous commie plot” of water fluoridation. Today, sadly, there appears to be a modern day equivalent of this imaginary bogeyman.

According to a rather disturbing story in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, Kentucky Senator and presidential wannabe Rand Paul has endorsed the dangerous idea that childhood vaccinations should be left to the whims of parents.

“Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., claimed Monday that vaccines can cause ‘profound mental disorders.’

Paul, in an often contentious interview with CNBC, argued that parents should have a choice whether to vaccinate their children.

‘I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,’ Paul said.

The scientific community overwhelmingly believes that vaccines are safe and the alleged link between vaccines and autism has been discredited.

As the country was reminded in recent days with the outbreak of measles at Disneyland, vaccinations are a critical, life-saving public health tool — a tool that’s built in large measure on universal compliance. How do people think we got rid of dreaded killers like smallpox and polio — through prayer and fasting?

Whatever the source of Paul’s wacky views — be they old-fashioned conservative fear and paranoia or, as journalist Amanda Marcotte argued persuasively on Talking Points Memo yesterday, elitism, for the sake of all our kids and grandchildren, let’s hope Paul’s ridiculous stance falls flat and is quickly consigned once more to the dustbin of history.