Mosquitos are among our very least favorite visitors each summer, but is it possible that taking action against them is actually linked to increased rates of autism and developmental delays? A pilot study presented at a recent Pediatric Academic Societies meeting examined the use of aerial pesticide spraying across Central New York in conjunction with the medical records of 19,000 local children, and found that children living in zip codes that were sprayed using this method had a 25% higher risk of autism and developmental delays than those living in zip codes that used other types of pesticide application. Overall, of the children living in aerially sprayed areas .84% developed autism as compared with .67% who lived elsewhere. A 25% increase is nothing to take lightly (even though the rates in these areas were actually lower than the general population), but scientists, including the researchers in the study, caution that the link might not be as certain as it seems. Here’s why…
First of all, autism is a complex diagnosis and likely the result of multiple environmental and genetic factors interacting. Some scientists speculate that 100 different genes may be linked to autism. Secondly, the study did not appear to control for other variables (environmental or otherwise) that may have played into the varied autism rates between the zip codes. Protecting families from mosquito-born illnesses is also an important health consideration, especially considering that the area studied is known as Cicero Swamp and known for an environment that is potentially vulnerable to mosquitos en masse. The author of the study raises the question of whether the increased rate of autism and developmental disorders is actually due to the spraying or rather to exposure to certain mosquito-born illnesses. So there’s obviously a lot to consider in this health and safety trade-off, and fears surrounding the Zika virus are likely to add another component to the decisions.
For those of you who had no idea that your town or city is being subjected to sprayings, now’s the time to find out what is going on in your area. Apparently, pyrethroids, which have been linked to learning disabilities have been sprayed regularly in certain areas since 2003. A 2014 study in California found that “children of mothers who lived near areas of pyrethroid exposure just before conception or during their third trimester were anywhere from 70% to more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with developmental disorders than those who hadn’t.” Spraying aerially or otherwise is much more common that most people realize: Glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup is being sprayed in close proximity to an astonishing number of schools despite an almost certain status as a cancer-causing agent. While we’d like to think that maintaining a healthy lifestyle while pregnant and then passing that on to our kids (complete with organic foods) is enough to counteract the environmental issues that are intensifying, more and more information is coming out to the contrary. There are plenty of environmental factors that we can’t control, but gaining knowledge about them is the first step.
Lead image via Pixaboy on Public Domain