MODESTO — No, your ears don't deceive you it's that time of year again for the annoying and potentially dangerous buzz of mosquitoes.
The warm weather has brought the start of mosquito season in the Central Valley and a renewed need to reach for the insect repellent. The Legislature has declared it West Nile Virus and Mosquito Control Awareness Week across the state as area mosquito abatement districts swing into full gear.
"We try to kill as many mosquitoes as we can, but we can't kill them all," said David Heft, manager of the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District. "So everyone has to take personal responsibility to help fight them."
Mosquito abatement districts in Modesto, Turlock, Merced and San Joaquin County have begun their annual surveillance and control operations for mosquitoes that might be carrying West Nile virus. They urge the public to take action to fight mosquitoes and the potentially deadly diseases they spread.
Last year in Stanislaus County, there were 26 reported cases of West Nile virus in people, the highest incident rate since the disease was first detected in the county in 2004. In 2011, there were 11 cases; in 2010, there were 12.
While most people will not suffer any lasting health issues from a West Nile infection, in rare cases the disease can lead to serious neurological problems and even death. There is no treatment or vaccine for the illness, which is spread to humans by infected mosquitoes.
Trudi Prevette, communicable disease supervisor for the Public Heath Department in Stanislaus County, said the local and national concern over the disease is because of its potential severity, which can range from fine motor skills problems to difficulty walking.
"A lot of people who get it don't get tested because they show no symptoms or only mild flulike symptoms," Prevette said. "But of the neural-invasive cases we had last year, they were very severe. People suffered for long months, sometimes years. It can lead to disability and death."
While there is no vaccine, there are preventive measures people can take to not be bitten in the first place. All of the area abatement districts regularly monitor the insect's numbers and infection in the region. They also provide the public with free services to help them slow mosquito proliferation by eliminating their favorite breeding place, stagnant water.
Hot lines to each region's abatement district are available, and the public is urged to call to report heavy mosquito activity or problems with standing water on their property or elsewhere. These include neglected swimming pools and ornamental ponds. But breeding mosquitoes also can be found in everything from pet bowls to bird baths, rain gutters, abandoned tires and flower pots.
Lloyd Douglass, manager of the East Side Mosquito Abatement District, which serves areas in Stanislaus County north of the Tuolumne River, said the pests can go from egg to mature biting adult in as quickly as four days. "Even though I'm in this business, it's amazing to me how many I find in my yard," Douglass said. "I find larvae anywhere water can collect."
The abatement districts offer free services to residents, including testing mosquito populations, spraying a larvacide in standing water, fogging areas with insecticide and adding mosquito fish to standing ponds and other water features.
The public also is asked to report any dead birds or squirrels, which may have died from the virus. Birds, squirrels and horses all are susceptible to West Nile, but only mosquitoes can transfer it to humans.
"We're already seeing quite a bit of mosquito activity this year," Heft said. "So if you see something standing water, green pools just call us and let us handle it."
One thing the public is asked to handle themselves is insect repellant. Public Health and abatement district officials both urge residents to slather on the bug spray to help from being bitten.
Products containing DEET, Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I hate repellant, too, it stinks and it's nasty," Douglass said. "But I've met people who have West Nile and I'll wear repellant. I know it's a pain to put on repellant. But this is something they can do for themselves to help a lot."
Other simple steps people can take include wearing long pants and sleeves outdoors, staying indoors at dawn, dusk and the first two hours after sunset, and installing tight-fitting screens on doors and windows.
"Last year, the majority of people I interviewed who had West Nile did not use any kind of insect repellant," Prevette said. "People tend to forget about it, but it's important."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter, @TurlockNow.
AT A GLANCE
Health care advice:
Use insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus when outdoors, and wear long sleeves and long pants.
Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
Install tight-fitting screens on windows and doors.
Get rid of standing water (change water regularly in pet dishes and birdbaths).
Keep wading pools empty and on their sides when not being used.
Report unusually high mosquito levels, as well as dead birds.
To report mosquito problems:
East Side Mosquito Abatement District (209) 522-4098, www.eastsidemosquito.com
Turlock Mosquito Abatement District (209) 634-1234, www.turlockmosquito.org
Merced County Mosquito Abatement District (209) 722-1527, www.mcmosquito.org
San Joaquin County Mosquito & Vector Control District (209) 982-4675, (800) 300-4675, www.sjmosquito.org
To report dead birds or squirrels:
Call the toll-free state hot line at (877) 968-2473 or visit www.westnile.ca.gov.
Source: San Joaquin County Mosquito & Vector Control District