If it feels like the mosquitoes have been particularly brutal this year, it isn’t just in your imagination.
Unusually high levels of rain, and the resulting flooding, created the ideal breeding ground for multiple types of mosquitoes in Merced County, and increased numbers mean increased bites.
“It’s not dependent on class, if you’re wealthy or you’re poor. It’s just how you water, what your irrigation practices are, what you keep on your property,” says Rhiannon Jones, the general manager of the Merced Mosquito Abatement District. “These mosquitoes really don’t need that much water to grow. They can survive in a bottle cap of water.”
There are two types of mosquitoes most commonly found in Merced County. The first, Culex mosquitoes, are the kind Merced residents are most familiar with. These mosquitoes are primarily attracted to livestock or birds, but are known to bite humans incidentally. These are the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. In recent years, the county has a new type of invasive urban mosquito called Aedes Aegypti. They were first detected in 2017, and have since reached a large portion of Merced County. Originally entering California through a port in Los Angeles, Aedes Aegypti specifically target humans as their food source. The good news: this more recent addition to our mosquito population does not carry West Nile Virus.
Rumors abound of malaria making a comeback in the United States, but it is too early to raise the alarm. According to the CDC, it is true that cases of malaria unrelated to travel have appeared recently, despite malaria being classified as eliminated in 1951. Those limited cases occurred in Texas and Florida, and the likelihood of contracting malaria stateside is still very rare.
The primary concern remains West Nile: “We have West Nile activity in mosquitoes pretty much throughout the county at this point, which is not uncommon for this time, but it does seem to be a little more intense than in previous years,” Jones said.
The number of West Nile cases detected in humans in California has more than doubled since the same time last year, with 55 cases reported. Merced County claims only one of those cases, with a second case being later retracted.
There are precautions residents can take to minimize the effect of mosquitoes:
- Eliminate standing water: mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Even small amounts in plant containers or open cups increase risk.
- Use repellent spray: products containing DEET are considered the gold-standard to prevent biting. There are alternatives to DEET, such as natural oils, but should not be used for those under the age of three.
- Minimize exposed skin: wearing long sleeves and long pants gives mosquitoes limited access to your skin
- Avoid the outdoors during dusk and dawn: mosquitoes are most active during these times of day.
- Contact mosquito abatement: The Merced County Mosquito Abatement District is able to provide service to those who are dealing with mosquitoes beyond their control. The fastest way to receive service is to request via their website at mcmosquito.org.