Mosquito cops called back to work

Posted at 5:11 PM on July 11, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

With the shutdown dragging on into week two and mosquito season in full swing, Minnesota's Health Department has called a small number of tick and mosquito researchers back to work.

MPR News reporter Lorna Benson writes:

The Minnesota Department of Health has called back to work a small number of employees in one of its disease units. The workers had been furloughed during the state government shutdown. They will now help process a backlog of more than 500 reports of so-called vector-borne diseases that have come in since the shutdown began. Mosquitoes and ticks account for most of the vector-borne diseases in Minnesota.

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Health Department spokesman John Stieger says agency managers thought they could do without the employees if the shutdown had ended quickly.

"Since now we're on to 11 days (since the shutdown) it was important we felt to bring staff back to follow-up with health care providers who are contacting us about suspected cases of vector-borne diseases."

This is the peak period for Lyme disease reports in Minnesota. And the state is just entering its peak season for West Nile virus.

The Health Department didn't need a special ruling to bring back the employees since the agency already had permission to retain workers who investigate disease outbreaks.

A small number of employees who work in the Health Department's vector-borne disease unit have returned to work. The unit investigates outbreaks associated mostly with ticks and mosquitoes.

The agency laid off the entire unit when the shutdown began. But now the Department needs help processing the more than 500 reports of vector-borne diseases that have come in since the shutdown began. This is the peak period for Lyme disease reports in Minnesota. And the state is just entering its peak season for West Nile virus.

Spokesman John Stieger says a special ruling wasn't needed to bring back the employees.

"We had already been approved by the Special Master to carry out infectious disease investigations. So this kind of falls into that category which was already approved as a critical service."

Stieger wouldn't say how many employees returned to work. When the vector-borne disease unit is fully staffed it has 4 epidemiologists and 5 student workers.


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