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Residents Give Mixed Reviews of Mosquito Effort; Class Canceled as Precaution

September 12, 1996

WESTERLY, R.I. (AP) _ School officials canceled classes today amid fears that children could be harmed by insecticide being sprayed to kill mosquitoes carrying a potentially deadly virus.

A few residents complained that schoolchildren were accidentally sprayed Wednesday. To head off a repeat of that criticism, Superintendent James Hoebbel called off school today, the last day spraying was planned.

``I have a 10-year-old and what they’re spraying worries me more than him getting bitten,″ resident Danni Cleary said. ``Now we’re hearing some kids got sprayed _ if it was my child, I’d be very upset.″

Gov. Lincoln Almond declared a state of emergency in Westerly last week after tests showed the virus that causes a rare disease, Eastern equine encephalitis, was present in one of every 100 mosquitoes. A few other Rhode Island towns have also seen infected mosquitoes, but not as many as Westerly.

While some were afraid of the aerial spraying, others were glad.

``They say it’s a one-in-a-million chance (to contract the virus), but that’s one lottery I don’t want to hit,″ said Westerly resident Morris Sabin, a retired salesman. ``You can keep that jackpot _ I don’t want it.″

He said residents have been kept well-informed about efforts to fight the form of encephalitis.

So far, no one has contracted the virus, which has killed about 150 people nationwide in the last 40 years and is fatal to about half of those who get it.

The insecticide used to kill the mosquitoes, resmithrin, may cause rashes or asthma attacks in people with allergies but has no long-term health effects, state Department of Health Director Patricia Nolan said.

Officials advised residents to keep children and pets indoors, close windows, turn off air conditioners for four hours after the spraying, and rinse off outdoor lawn furniture and toys.

``The kids want to be outside, but what can you do?″ said Peggy Oliphant during an afternoon walk with her 5-year-old daughter, Michaela. ``We’ll all just have to adjust until things are back under control.″ Her daughter was in a stroller covered with a mosquito net.

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