Facebook Twitter

What’s the buzz about mosquitoes in Utah? Counties seeing high numbers, pests with West Nile virus

Fight back against the increasing populations of mosquitoes

SHARE What’s the buzz about mosquitoes in Utah? Counties seeing high numbers, pests with West Nile virus
merlin_1956.jpg

Christian Weinrich, a Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District surveillance technician, sorts and counts mosquito species at the district’s office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. Culex mosquitos are collected and tested for the West Nile virus.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A national association is buzzing about Salt Lake City landing on a national top 10 list for a particular characteristic, but this buzz isn’t anything to boast about.

The National Pest Management Association recently identified 10 cities across the country under increased “vector pest pressure” — like mosquitoes and ticks — due to seasonal conditions.

In Salt Lake City’s case, for example, the region experienced a wet spring, standing water from a healthy runoff and above-average temperatures early into the summer.

Cities on the list, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, experienced excessive or record rainfall, leading to prime breeding conditions for the pests, according to the association.

“The deluge of rain that soaked most of our country throughout spring and summer did more than just damper outdoor plans, it gave rise to dangerous pest populations that could impact the country well into fall,” said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the association.

“Early season rain allowed pockets of moisture to accumulate, creating ideal breeding conditions for both ticks and mosquitoes alike. Coupled with late-season heat expected across most of the country for the remainder of summer, conditions are ripe for these pest populations to multiply, and quickly,” she added.

The worry is that vector-borne illnesses are on the rise, and ticks and mosquitoes are among the biggest culprits.

merlin_1948.jpg

Christian Weinrich, a Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District surveillance technician, collects a mosquito trap in Salt Lake City on on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, before heading back to the district’s office where he’ll sort and count mosquito species.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“The Centers for Disease Control reported 59,349 cases of tick-borne diseases alone in 2017, a staggering increase of over 22% from just the year prior,” said Mannes. “While Americans across the country should always remain vigilant in their pest-proofing efforts, especially during the summer months, those living in the cities identified should take extra precautions when spending time outdoors this season.”

BiteMe_PestWatchlist_02.jpg

Multiple counties across the state are reporting mosquito populations carrying West Nile virus, including Sevier, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Uintah.

Ary Faraji, executive director and entomologist with the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, said the situation in Salt Lake City is actually not as bad as anticipated.

“All in all we are seeing average numbers. There was a lot of precipitation this season, with standing water,” he said, but early aggressive efforts kept populations from booming.

Faraji, who is president-elect of the American Mosquito Control Association, said it is normal to detect mosquito populations with a viral presence, which are carried by avian populations but transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes.

“What really concerns us is if those infection rates increase” among tested populations, he said.

merlin_1958.jpg

Christian Weinrich, a Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District surveillance technician, collects a mosquito trap in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, before heading back to the abatement district’s office where he’ll sort and count mosquito species.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Crews from the Salt Lake City district set out between 40 and 60 traps each week and take the pests to the lab for processing that includes testing them for a viral presence and species identification.

Because mosquito populations are so dynamic, they vary greatly from county to county.

In Davis County, 29 of 42 pools tested positive for West Nile virus, which manifests in most infected people via minor symptoms such as body aches, fever, nausea and vomiting. People over 60 with certain medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes or hypertension are at most risk of developing a serious illness if infected.

The Utah Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology says about 1 of every 10 people who develop a serious illness from West Nile virus affecting the central nervous system die.

merlin_1950.jpg

Christian Weinrich, a Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District surveillance technician, sorts and counts mosquito species at the district’s office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. Culex mosquitos are collected and tested for the West Nile virus.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Mosquito abatement districts throughout the state spray for the pests, and some districts will spray at residents’ requests. Davis County offers mosquito-eating fish for those households with ornamental ponds.

At the northern end of Utah, the Cache County Mosquito Abatement District is seeing an explosive surge in mosquito populations, but at this point, no tests so far are showing the presence of West Nile virus.

“I am actually surprised,” said manager Richard Rigby. “I am not naive enough to say it is not here, but we have not see any positives yet.”

Rigby has been manager of the district since 2011 and is amazed at what he is seeing in terms of general population numbers.

“Our numbers have been quite substantial in the last three weeks. In 16 traps, I have never counted as many mosquitoes as I did two weeks ago. It is substantially higher than in past years.”

Faraji said that on a national perspective, those in the vector-pest control business are most concerned about invasive mosquito species that transmit tropical diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever or zika fever.

So far, those virus-carrying mosquitoes have not established themselves in Utah, he said.

The pest management association recommends several steps to protect against mosquitoes or ticks and the threats they pose, including applying repellent containing at least 20% DEET before spending time outdoors. When possible, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes, and opt for light-colored clothing to make any hitchhiking pests more visible, it said. In addition, empty any areas of standing water on your property, as they serve as breeding grounds for pests.