County on the lookout for mosquitoes

Bob Kaufman looks for mosquitoes.

The Santa Clara County Vector Control District is reaching out to residents of the South Valley regarding a nasty invader that has the potential to pack a powerful punch despite its diminutive size.

The Aedes Aegypti, more commonly known as the yellow-fever mosquito, has been found in Merced. Despite the 50 miles separating that city and South Valley, there’s a distinct possibility that the little invaders may hitch a ride in a car or truck to make it’s way here. It’s feared that owing to the hardy nature of the insect’s eggs which can withstand drought for up to 10 years, that it may already be in South Valley.

“They are a game changer regarding mosquito control,” said Russ Parman, Assistant Manager for the Santa Clara County Vector Control District. “Since they bite during the day, even without spreading disease they are a very severe nuisance. They interfere with life the way regular mosquitos don’t.”

Aside from being a carrier of yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and Zika, the new mosquito is hard to contain since it can breed in small pools of water the size of a bottle cap. While there have been no reported cases of these diseases being spread through mosquito bites, Santa Clara County has the third highest rate of infection from people who travel and bring back the diseases from where they came.

“We call those imported or travel cases, where people travel to places where these diseases are everywhere,” Parman said. “They get the infection from that place mosquitos and they come back with the virus in their bloodstreams. If you get these infected persons coming back with these diseases and one of these mosquitos bites the infected person, it can now transfer the virus to others.”

Not only are they dangerous, but they’re particularly annoying as well. The yellow fever mosquito, differing from their cousins, operate during the day and can spread disease by biting multiple victims.

“Unlike the West Nile Virus, which requires birds to build up the virus, these diseases are spread directly from mosquitos to humans,” Parman said. “That’s the game changer because the yellow fever mosquito has the habit of biting multiple people before it lays eggs.”

The yellow fever mosquito is small, about 1/4 inches, is black and white and prefers to feed on humans. They thrive in urban environments since they can lay their eggs in small containers with standing water like flower pots, bird baths and pet bowls.

The spread of invasive mosquitoes is not new to the area. The Asian tiger mosquito made its entry into the area in 2013 that came in with Lucky bamboo shipments coming in from Southeast Asia.

“We eradicated that little invasion here in 2013, but now for the last several years we’ve had extensive populations of these mosquitoes in Southern California,” Parman said. “Also in 2013, they discovered the yellow fever mosquito in Clovis. Since that time it has spread through most of the heavily populated areas of Fresno County and has been seen as far west as Firebaugh California and as far north as Merced.”

To help contain their spread, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District is working to get the word out to the public. Residents can help contain the spread by draining standing water, reporting neglected pools or by using insect sprays containing DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

“The best thing we can do is detect them as soon as possible,” Parman said. “Since they love to hitchhike in cars it’s just a matter of time they come here. They might be here already.”

To get the word out on the alien-like invader, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District has engaged in a public information campaign to spread awareness to the public. Within the week, they plan to send mailers to South Valley residents asking for reports of possible mosquito sightings.

“They are kind of like the alien from the movies,” Parman said. “They just wait for the right moment to pop out.”