Personnel at UCSB’s Environmental Health and Safety Dept. have been developing a plan known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a plan that designers say will cause minimal environmental impact while reducing the risk posed by mosquitoes possibly infected with West Nile virus.

Kevin Kaboli, industrial hygiene program manager, heads the IPM committee charged with a mission to control dangerous pests, as well as avoid causing unnecessary harm to other organisms in the environment. The committee designs programs that promote localized use of pesticides only in specific areas that have been shown to contain pest populations. UCSB’s control program is contracted with the Santa Barbara Coastal Vector Control District (SBCVCD), a state entity that is paid to monitor mosquito populations and use pesticides when necessary on UCSB properties. The goal of mosquito abatement is to control the spread of West Nile virus, which is carried by mosquitoes and first appeared in Santa Barbara County last July.

So far, there have been no reported human cases of West Nile virus in Santa Barbara County, said Kenneth Learned, district biologist at SBCVCD. The virus, however, is known to be present in the county because a total of seven birds have died from West Nile virus, Learned said.

Mosquitoes are labeled as a vector because they function as a carrier, transmitting the virus among birds, humans and horses. The virus cannot travel by itself without a blood or tissue exchange.

“Humans can get [West Nile virus] only from the bite of an infected mosquito, with the only exceptions being a blood transfusion or an organ transplant from an infected person,” Learned said. “Other than that, no direct human-to-human transmission occurs.”

In the majority of human infections, the symptoms are mild and flu-like. It is rare that someone gets extremely ill from West Nile virus, and even rarer that they die from it.

“There were over 800 confirmed human cases of West Nile virus – 25 fatal – in California in 2004,” Learned said. “It’s been found throughout the state, half the counties have had human cases. In most cases there are very few symptoms. One in 150 have severe flu-like symptoms, paralysis and memory loss.”

As West Nile virus was becoming more common in other areas of the country, the IPM committee at UCSB was already preparing for its spread to California, Kaboli said.

“We have been dealing with this proactively even before it hit California,” Kaboli said. “We started the process over 3 years ago.”

The IPM committee is comprised of representatives from various departments, such as Facilities Management, Housing and Residential Services, Environmental Health and safety and others that would be involved with pest control methods. Each member of the committee provides input that becomes part of UCSB’s pest management policy. Kaboli said a major goal is to keep the pests in check with minimal chemicals, a means of control that requires that the SBCVCD – the organization that would actually be applying the pesticides – be directly involved in the planning phase.

“The first step we took is we started working with SBCVCD,” Kaboli said. “We worked with them to develop a mosquito management plan; UCSB signed a contract with them in June 2003.”

The contract allows up to $100,000 to be allocated each year on mosquito monitoring and abatement, but so far $43,000 has been spent since June 2003, Kaboli said. The amount of money spent each year depends on how many mosquitoes are found, and how large an effort is required to eliminate them. The SBCVCD is responsible for mosquito abatement on all of UCSB’s properties, Kaboli said.

The vector control district must also follow the IPM committee’s recommendations for minimal pesticide use and choose chemicals that cause little or no harm to other organisms, Kaboli said.

“The SBCVCD’s contract with UCSB allows the SBCVCD to use the most modern, most effective and most environmentally friendly mosquito control methods currently available on UCSB properties,” Learned said.

The chemical used to eliminate mosquitoes targets the insect when it is in its juvenile, larva stage. It is classified as a larvicide, or growth inhibitor and does not affect most other insect life, Learned said. It is nontoxic to humans and animals.

Kaboli said that the IPM committee requires vector control to accurately describe its use of pesticides and methods so that the committee can be assured SBCVCD is operating within guidelines.

“They provide quarterly reports, based on our request. We require they attend our meetings quarterly, and basically answer the questions,” Kaboli said. “We are pretty pleased with their performance, and they way we have been working with them.”