Culver City Edition East Edition Herald American Lead Story Lynwood Press Northeast Edition The Press West Edition

Even during drought, there is no shortage of mosquitoes

SANTA FE SPRINGS — With the California drought drying up river beds, stormwater channel and ponds in wooded areas, one would think there is less danger from disease-carrying mosquitoes because they have fewer places to breed.

Wrong, say officials of the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, based here.

In fact there is greater danger, causing the vector control officials to be more alert, especially from “invasive mosquitoes” from Southeast Asia. They are found along the East Coast and in Florida, Texas and Arizona.

“The threat is real and cannot be underestimated,” said Levy Sun, public information officer for the district. “We are concerned that we may see more virus activity in 2015. Despite the drought, the warm weather and neglected water sources such as swimming pools and flowerpot saucers have provided perfect conditions for mosquitoes to thrive.

“The native mosquitoes are not that much of a problem around homes, but the invasive mosquitoes are quite comfortable breeding in urban areas and seek out ponds of stagnant water at homes, in bathroom sewers or in rain barrels put out to catch and conserve water,” Sun said. “We may find up to 10,000 mosquitoes in a dirty pond or in a sewer under our feet.”

Mitchel Weinbaum, the general manger of the Compton Creek Mosquito Abatement District, agreed.

There has been no rain to flush out the underground drains, thereby offering mosquitoes a good place to breed. And many of those drains empty into Compton Creek, he said.

Covering 12.5 square miles and serving about 115,000 residents, the Compton Creek district is funded through tax dollars and provides free services for mosquito control, Weinbaum said.

The Compton Creek is inspected regularly as are the assorted flood control channels that run throughout the district, he added. Water retention basins receive the district’s full attention along with the city’s streets and catch basins.

Weinbaum, who has been with the district for 27 years, said he monitors mosquito traps, mostly in trees at the homes of board members, retrieves mosquitoes and sends them to the state laboratory at UC Davis for examination.

Public education is among his duties, said Weinbaum, who speaks on mosquito abatement at schools and before civic groups.

A Mosquito Awareness Day program April 22 at Clinton Elementary School was attended by about 300 students, he said.

The district’s operating budget, which goes to the board this spring, is estimated at $280,000 to $300,000.

Vector control officials ask residents to remove any stagnant water from their yards, such as containers, fish ponds, plants, clogged rain gutters and even old tires. Such containers should be removed or holes drilled in the bottom to let the water escape into the ground, Weinbaum said.

Water in swimming pools is chlorinated to prevent mosquitoes from breeding there.

A main effort of the Greater Los Angeles County District is to reduce the breeding of mosquitoes, which may carry such diseases as malaria, encephalitis and the West Nile virus, which gets from dead birds.

“West Nile is a bird disease, which can be carried by mosquitoes that bite affected birds and then bite humans, transferring the disease,” Sun said. “The good thing is West Nile, which has flu-like symptoms, cannot be spread from human to human.”

If someone is bitten by a mosquito and a week later experiences symptoms such as fever, fatigue and a rash, they should see a doctor just to be sure, Sun said about the disease, which can be fatal in some cases.

To date, no traces of West Nile have been found in the local district although there was a report from the Sylmar district earlier in the year.

“We don’t usually find [West Nile] until April or May,” he said.

To watch for signs of the disease, the Vector District has mosquito traps in every city that are monitored regularly. Dead mosquitoes are brought to the Santa Fe Springs office where vector control specialists like Harold Morales place them under a microscope for examination.

“We first divide them according to species,” said Morales, who has been with the district for nine years.

The mosquitoes are then sent to entomologists at UC Davis for testing.

If any trace of West Nile or other diseases are found, Sun goes to work with public notices and warnings. “We work with the Los Angeles County Health Department to watch for West Nile in humans,” he said.

To protect against West Nile and other mosquito-spread ailments, people should avoid outdoor activities between dusk and dawn during mosquito season (October to May), wear loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeve shirts while outdoors and use a bug repellant.

The Santa Fe Springs-based district serves about 6 million people and covers about 1,330 square miles, generally in Southern Los Angeles County from the Orange County line northeast to Diamond Bar, west to the Harbor (110) Freeway and north through Carson, Gardena and most of Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, says Mark A. Daniel, director of operations for the local district.

The Santa Fe Springs operation has 67 staff members including 38 full-time vector control specialists and a budget of about $10 million a year, Daniel said. The general manager is Truc Dever.

The Greater Los Angeles district is funded by a county assessment of $7.74 a year for each parcel in the district, Daniel said.

Representatives from each of the 36 communities covered by the district make up its board of directors, which meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Santa Fe Springs office. Meetings are open to the public.

The district will send out trucks to spray mosquitoes in public places such as a ditch or pond if there is a perceived danger, but its outreach is primarily through education.

“We send out our ‘bug mobile’ carrying displays to advise about West Nile and how we combat it, said Sun, who has been with the district for two years. Sun and all district employees including clerical staff receive extensive training on West Nile and how to combat it.

The bug mobile is a 35-foot long motor vehicle that allows up to 19 students to view a simulated estuary, learn about the life cycle of mosquitoes, their anatomy and how to control them.

Mark Daniel, left, director of operations at the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, Santa Fe Springs; and Public Information Officer Levi Sun, explain the use of mosquito fish, which are offered free to residents to place in their decorative ponds and backyard water features. (Photo by Arnold Adler)
Mark Daniel, left, director of operations at the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, Santa Fe Springs; and Public Information Officer Levi Sun, explain the use of mosquito fish, which are offered free to residents to place in their decorative ponds and backyard water features. (Photo by Arnold Adler)

The district also offers, free of charge, tiny orange colored fish known as mosquito fish (scientific name gambusin affinis) to those requesting who request them. Some 10 to 20 fish, male and female, are handed out and may be placed in a pond or water feature where they breed.

The mosquito fish eat mosquitoes, bugs and algae and need no feeding from humans, Daniel said, adding that they also will eat almost any food given them.

Residents seeking mosquitoes fish may come to the district site with their own containers, but we also deliver, Daniel said.

Weinbaum says the Compton District also offers free mosquito fish.

Cities in the South Bay such as Inglewood, Torrance and Hawthorne north to West Hollywood, Culver City and Beverly Hills are in the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District, which offers many of the same services and programs offered by the Greater Los Angeles Vector Control District.