Despite heavy rainfall in recent months and the mosquito danger posed by standing water, Santa Barbara pest control officials say cooler weather will help prevent an infestation of the bloodsucking insects.
“If we had prolonged warm weather after the rains, then it would be a problem,” said Santa Barbara County Health Director Rick Merrifield. “Warm weather favors mosquito breeding and disease.”
Merrifield said “backyard sources” of temporary standing water, such as small puddles in artificial containers or ponds, provide ideal locations for mosquitoes to breed, lay eggs and spread disease.
While mosquitoes can carry the West Nile Virus, which first became a threat to Californians in 1999, no human cases have arisen in Santa Barbara County. However, the virus has been detected in local birds. Those infected with the virus often show no symptoms, but have the potential to develop encephalitis or meningitis.
“The good news is mosquitoes seem to like birds better than humans,” Merrifield said.
Mitchell Bernstein, manager of the Santa Barbara Coastal Vector Control District, said increased mosquito populations have been a problem in previous years, when prolonged rain has caused mosquito eggs laid on dry land in the previous season to hatch.
Bernstein said Vector Control has been trying to cut down on West Nile cases during the mosquito season by pre-treating flood areas, such as marshes and duck ponds on the UCSB campus, with environmentally sensitive pesticides designed to prevent mosquito reproduction. He said Vector Control also continuously monitors these sites to watch for breeding.
“Ever since West Nile was detected in California, we have been cautious during the mosquito season,” Bernstein said.
According to the Santa Barbara Coastal Vector Control website, a rise in mosquito population could potentially spread disease among humans. In California, the most common threat is viral encephalitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the brain, most frequently carried by the Culex tarsalis species. The Vector Control District monitors the spread of encephalitis using sentinel chicken flocks and insect trapping.
Last year, Merrifield said, there were 882 mosquito-related human infections reported to the Santa Barbara Health Dept.
Kevin Kaboli, industrial hygiene program manager for UCSB Environmental Health and Safety, said the university campus has not recently had a significant mosquito problem under the watch of Vector Control.
“Right now, [Vector Control has] a lot of activities in terms of monitoring and treatment because it’s getting close to reproduction season,” Kaboli said.
Bernstein said he recommends local residents take precautions to protect themselves from any future mosquito problems. He said homeowners should try to limit areas of collected or standing water on their property, and he also suggested they purchase mosquito fish, which eat mosquito larvae, to place in ponds or large areas of standing water. The pond in Storke Plaza contains mosquito fish.
“There will always be mosquitoes, but people can protect themselves by wearing long sleeves and repellants containing DEET,” Bernstein said. “They should also avoid going outside at dusk and dawn and make sure that window screens are in good condition.”