By: Sarah Lopez
This year, Maricopa County saw its highest recorded number of mosquito complaints in history, but relief is soon on the way, according to County Environmental Services Department Spokesperson Johnny Dilone.
“It’s been the busiest year for Vector Control so far,” he said. “The last week of September, we got more than 2,000 calls for mosquito complaints, and 2,400 calls another week. It’s the most we’ve ever seen. The last time we saw a large surge in mosquitoes was in 2006, when we got 1,400 calls, which is the old record.”
Mosquito season tends to be more active from April through the end of October and the peak of the season, usually July, August, and September. This year, however, it was closer to September and October.
This year’s record-breaking rainfall brought more standing water, and with it, more mosquitoes. The surplus of standing water and the cooler than average temperature over the summer was very conducive to more mosquito breeding.
“There are 197 positive samples this year so far, higher than the total number of positive samples from the past 6 years combined,” Dilone said. “In terms of human cases, we have 65 so far this year and eight deaths.”
Cases of West Nile virus tend to fluctuate from year to year.
“We’ve developed a year-round surveillance program for problem areas with mosquitoes,” he said. “Every week we deploy 640 traps to those areas and treat the problem as needed. When we still get complaints, we deploy more traps to those areas.”
One trap recovered this year contained at least 25,000 mosquitoes, far more than any previous traps.
“We take the traps and count the number of mosquitoes, sort males from females, and by species, and then we blend them up and test them all for West Nile virus.”
Even if bitten by an infected mosquito, most people don’t experience any symptoms. About 20 percent experience flu-like symptoms, a small percent of those experience more severe symptoms.
“We need to make sure that we have no standing water for the mosquitoes to breed. Even a bottle cap left undisturbed for 3-4 days is enough for them to breed. It’s also important to stay covered to prevent mosquito bites. Light colored clothing tends to repel them,” Dilone said.
“We can expect the season to slow down in the coming weeks if we don’t get more rain and the temperature drops. They definitely don’t like the cooler weather,” he said.
Mosquitoes have a life cycle of about fourteen days. Less moisture, combined with cooler temperatures, the mosquitoes will slowly decline.
“There was more overtime for the office staff, but what we do is help prevent the spread of West Nile virus, so there’s no telling how many people we keep out of the hospital. We cover all of Maricopa County, so there’s no shortage of areas to treat.”
Vector Control’s work load will decline right alongside the pests.
Britney Meyer, a Mesa Community College student and lifelong resident of Maricopa County, said, “It’s really been the worst mosquito season I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been bit many times every day since it got bad. I can’t just avoid going outside all the time, so I have to live with the bites.”
Meyer plans to start going on her evening walks again once the mosquitoes have subsided to a manageable number.
“I used to take walks all the time, but with the mosquito problem this year I’ve had to stop doing what I love,” she said.
Meyer called Vector Control earlier this month to schedule a fogging in her neighborhood, which has had copious amounts of standing water since the monsoons of September.