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Huanglongbing disease linked to Virgin Islands: Predatory wasps the cure

citrus disease

CHRISTIANSTED — A deadly bacteria that can decimate citrus has been found in California, the second such discovery in three years, according to agricultural officials.

Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, was detected last week on a kumquat tree in a residential area of San Gabriel. The bacterial disease, which can be spread by the citrus psyllid bug, was first detected in 2012 in Hacienda Heights, about 15 miles away, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Agricultural inspectors are examining other citrus trees in the vicinity and are preparing for a quarantine that would limit the transport of plants, according to CDFA. Similar quarantines in response to the presence of the citrus psyllid already are in effect in 17 California counties, including Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino, the agency said.

California’s $2-billion citrus industry, where 80% of the country’s fresh citrus originates, has been concerned about spread of the disease since it first was detected in Florida, in 2005, about seven years after the psyllid first was found there.

Citrus greening disease has caused $2.9 billion in damage to Florida’s citrus industry, and it was a driving force behind the decimation of Mexico’s lime crop last year.

The bacteria does not pose a health threat to humans, but it attacks the citrus tree’s vascular system, resulting in fruit that is hard, bitter and misshapen.

The disease has been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At least 15 states or territories have quarantines in effect after detecting the bug that spreads the bacteria. They include: Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The USDA is scaling up efforts to release a predatory wasp to combat the psyllid and halt spread of the bacteria.

CDFA officials are urging anyone who suspects insect or bacterial infestation to call the agency’s toll-free pest hot line at 1-800-491-1899 or visit: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/acp/

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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