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Don’t forget fight against other maladies

It appears some villains in the insect world may owe the COVID-19 virus a debt of gratitude. The coronavirus has distracted public attention from them — and siphoned off public health resources.

Mosquito control is a task normally undertaken by about half the public health departments in the United States, The Associated Press recently reported. But their resources both in money and personnel are being taxed this year by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Even before the coronavirus struck, many public health agencies had been “underfunded and without adequate resources” for many years, the AP stated. It noted that conclusion was reached after a study by the AP and the nonprofit Kaiser Health News.

Obviously, as an arm of government, public health agency leaders always are going to seek more taxpayer support. Whether it should be granted is a question that ought to be debated.

Not at issue is whether public health resources have been strained by COVID-19, however. For that reason, many have been forced to cut back or forgo other initiatives, including mosquito control.

As disease transmitters, mosquitoes have a long history of being far more effective than COVID-19 as killers. Even with widespread control and eradication campaigns in many states, diseases carried by mosquitoes kill about 200 Americans each year.

Among diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are malaria, dengue fever and viruses such as Zika and West Nile. Unless resources are available to control the flying, biting insects, more Americans will contract and perhaps be killed by such maladies. Throughout the world, the death toll from mosquito-transmitted diseases may be in the millions.

During wartime, Americans recognize the need to provide extraordinary support for the armed forces. COVID-19 is a sort of war, having already claimed the lives of more than 140,000 Americans and more than 460,000 people in other countries. Concentrating resources against the coronavirus is appropriate, then. Allowing that fight to give mosquito-borne diseases an advantage is not wise.

Much as the military is given more money in wartime, taxpayers should provide more support for public health agencies now. Failing to do so could — and probably would — set the stage for abnormal outbreaks of other diseases. If federal funding is not available for that purpose, Congress should act immediately to provide the necessary support.

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