San Diego, California - County environmental health officials are turning up the volume on their “Prevent, Protect, Report” message this week as the region plunges into peak West Nile virus season, in a year that has also seen concerns over another mosquito-borne illness, the Zika virus.
In the 2015 West Nile virus season, 43 of the 44 San Diegans who tested positive for the potentially fatal virus did so after mid-September. Just one tested positive before that, in August.
This year, the County is ahead of that pace. Five San Diegans have tested positive for West Nile virus — four in the last two weeks. In addition, the County preventively hand-sprayed a small San Diego neighborhood two weeks ago to kill mosquitoes in a suspected case of mosquito-borne illness — Zika, dengue or chikungunya — that fortunately proved negative.
So, County environmental health officials are renewing their call to the public to protect themselves — to “Prevent” mosquitoes from breeding; to “Protect” themselves from being bitten; and to “Report” breeding areas and invasive Aedes mosquitoes, which like to bite in daylight hours and can transmit Zika and other tropical diseases, if they find them.
The County is also releasing a new public service announcement video-jingle, “Mosquitoes, Mosquitoes, Protect Your Family,” in English and Spanish that will be played in venues such as County television and before movies at the free Summer Movies at the Park series. And it’s reacquainting the public with videos like “Is Your Back Yard a Mosquito Breeding Ground?”
Some residents might wonder why mosquitoes would be a threat. It hasn’t rained in months and the region is still mired in a drought.
Environmental health officials said drought can actually increase mosquito populations. It can create stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed by lowering water levels in streams and creeks, and slowing runoff in storm drains. It can also prompt us to save water in cisterns and rain barrels that can unwittingly become mosquito hothouses if they’re not properly covered. And drought can make us water our yards more and create more potential breeding grounds by collecting water in anything sitting in our yards that can hold it.
Officials said the eggs of what could become disease-carrying mosquitoes may be hatching into wriggling larvae inside and outside our homes right now. They could be in a saucer under a flower pot, in the dog dish, that rain barrel collecting condensation, in kids’ toys in the backyard, or even in a tossed-away bottle cap.
Mosquitoes, officials said, can easily breed undetected if people are not watching their homes and yards. They said that is true for our region’s native mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus, and the Aedes invaders that can potentially transmit chikungunya, dengue or Zika. The discovery of those invasive Aedes species here in 2014 and 2015 upped the ante, and increased the need for the public to help prevent breeding grounds. That’s because they are known to prefer to live and breed around people, inside and outside of homes, and in the tiniest amounts of water. They can even breed in a thimble or bottle-cap of water.
This year, County Vector Control officials have found mosquito eggs and larvae growing in buckets, trash cans, landscape drains, old tires portable toilet trays, leaky sprinkler boxes and ornamental garden lights. They’ve even found them in vases at cemeteries.
So, remember — Prevent, Protect, Report.
Prevent mosquito breeding by Dumping out or removing any items inside or outside of homes that can hold water, such as plant saucers, rain gutters, buckets, garbage cans, toys, old tires, and wheelbarrows. Mosquito fish, available for free by contacting the Vector Control Program, may be used to control mosquito breeding in backyard water sources such as unused swimming pools, ponds, fountains and horse troughs.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne illnesses by staying inside when most mosquitoes are most active, at dusk and dawn. Wear long sleeves and pants or use repellent when outdoors. Use insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good condition and secured to keep insects out.
Report if you find mosquito breeding areas. And report if you are being bitten by mosquitoes during daylight hours, or if you find mosquitoes that match the description of Aedes mosquitoes by contacting the Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888.