Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pinal County’s Environmental Health Vector Team Fighting the Mosquito’s Bite

FLORENCE – It's midnight on a weekday and Pinal County Environmental Health Specialist Garry Bouquot is just starting his work "day."


Bouquot is in Environmental Health's mosquito fogging truck making a trip through parts of Casa Grande.  His hours now mirror the time that mosquitoes are "going to work."


"Mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus are active between dusk and dawn," Bouquot said as he starts the truck.  "We fog at this time because the mosquitoes are active and most people are not."


Bouquot went to Casa Grande because routine surveillance for mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus resulted in a positive test in a mosquito from a trap in the area.  To date, there have been no human cases of West Nile in Pinal County and Bouquot says he would like to keep it that way.


"We fog in areas that have shown positive tests for mosquitoes carrying the virus," Bouquot said.  "We target the areas that show signs of West Nile so we can make sure we get the upper hand early.  Not all mosquitoes are transmitters of this disease.  Seasonal mosquitoes are pesky but aren't usually the ones that carry this virus."


As Bouquot ends his shift, teammate and fellow Environmental Health Specialist, Tami Schuler, begins her day collecting mosquito traps she set the day before.


"It's a never ending process," Schuler said.  "We will take the mosquitoes we catch in these traps and test them to see if they carry the West Nile Virus."


After Schuler collects all her traps, she takes them to her office in Florence for testing.  Funding from the Arizona Department of Health Services helped to pay for a mini testing lab at the county.


"We can be much more proactive now that we have the equipment here, in house.  Previously, we had to ship the mosquitoes to Phoenix for testing," Schuler said while looking at a vial of the recently captured pests.  "We can get results in a matter of minutes, rather than days.  We can target an area almost immediately if one of the insects tests positive for West Nile."


Bouquot and Schuler's supervisor, Environmental Health Director Reg Glos, said recent monsoon rains have brought out more mosquitoes.


"Once the environment receives monsoon moisture the seasonal mosquitoes begin to appear," Glos said.  "They are definitely a nuisance to people and pets, but our focus has to be on putting a stop to those mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus."


Glos says his department receives a lot of calls from people who are experiencing seasonal mosquito bites.  Once the area begins to dry up, people will see a drop in mosquitoes.


"In the meantime, we suggest the use of insect repellant containing an EPA approved product such as DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 and always follow the directions on the label," Glos advised.  Certain products containing permethrin can be used on clothing.  Make sure windows and doors have tight-fitting screens.  If you have a lawn, keeping it trimmed can help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your property."


Glos added that county residents have been proactive by doing the little things that help keep mosquitoes at bay.


"Again, it goes back to making sure that standing water around your property is taken care of," Glos said.  "If you have old tires sitting around your property, get rid of them.  Tires with standing water in them a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Pinal County residents have been vigilant in changing their pet's water dishes and keeping their bird baths clean."


Schuler and Bouquot are asking residents to report any abandoned pools to the mosquito hotline at 1-866-287-0209 extension 6200 or 520-866-6200.  They've found that homes that aren't lived in or may be in foreclosure have not had their pools properly drained, thus making a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.


"Abandoned pools are just another piece of the puzzle," Glos said.  "If people report suspected problem pools, we can investigate and hopefully treat it quickly."