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Mother Nature, abatement efforts keep skeeter populations low

July 24, 2013

Although there is no current danger of West Nile Virus in the valley, Owens Valley Mosquito Abatement Program Manager Chris Wickham and his crew are testing a 1,200-square-mile area for Culex tarsalis (above), the most competent carrier of WNV. Photo courtesy Owens Valley Mosquito Abatement Program

While the mosquito population is currently low during this low-water year, the Owens Valley Mosquito Abatement Program crew is daily treating pastures and lake areas in preparation for the peak August/September mosquito season.
OVMAP Manager Chris Wickham said the crew has been applying larvicides to pasture areas adjacent to Bishop, Big Pine, Lone Pine and Independence as well as in the Owens Lake area near Keeler since March.
“Anywhere we find mosquitoes breeding near human populations is our highest priority,” he said.
Wickham, who had 22 years experience with the San Diego County Vector before replacing previous OVMAP manager Jerry Oser in April 2012, said his crew hasn’t started using adulticide yet. “That is typically done when larva cannot be controlled and there is a threat of disease.” That threat is determined by the number and species of mosquitoes present – in excess of 25 Culex tarsalis mosquitoes, the “most competent vector of West Nile Virus,” per trap.
Though this is the second consecutive low-water year, people still water lawns and irrigate, and water pools. OVMAP technicians are testing adult mosquito pools daily “and there is no sign of West Nile Virus yet. When we find enough of the right species, we send in samples for testing to San Diego County Disease Diagnosis Lab,” Wickham explained. The abatement crew, consisting of Wickham, full-time Mosquito Technicians Rob Miller and Casey Freeman and three part-time technicians, Bo Mack, Dave Miller and Walt Davison, covers 1,200 square miles daily, the manager said.
Wickham said, “It’s important that people should know that this is a light year. Mother Nature has a lot to do with our success right now.” However, as peak season approaches, he added, the public can use preventative measures: be aware that dusk and dawn are when mosquitoes are most active; dump all standing water that gathers in containers due to landscape watering or sprinkling, including bird baths; wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants; and use mosquito repellent.
WNV is active in the state now and the public can get information at www.westnile.ca.gov, Wickham said, sharing some information: Among the creatures most susceptible to WNV are horses, with a 40 percent mortality rate; birds of prey; and crows. Chickens, on the other hand, can contract it and show virtually no symptoms. Humans, just a step above chickens in this regard, are about 1.5 percent susceptible. WNV symptoms are cold- and flu-like, Wickham added.

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