It’s that time of year again.
If there’s a downside to the beautiful spring weather, the sunny days and warm nights we’ve been having, it’s the mosquitoes. But they are more than just annoying pests – these insects can pose a serious health risk.
To raise awareness about mosquitoes and insect-borne diseases, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will be hosting its third annual Volunteer Day tomorrow. Volunteers will be canvassing Sacramento and Yolo County with educational materials on how residents can help reduce mosquito populations in their area and protect themselves against West Nile virus.
“In the past three years we have had many human cases in the Sacramento and Yolo County area, including deaths,” said Luz Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the district in an e-mail interview. “West Nile virus is here to stay and we all have to be concerned because it is a serious and debilitating disease that has long lasting effects.”
Last year, there were 27 cases of West Nile in Sacramento and Yolo counties, including one death.
Dr. Tom Ferguson, the medical director at the Cowell Student Health Center, said in an e-mail interview that not everyone who is infected with West Nile develops strong symptoms.
“In fact, that seems to be rare, but when they do become severely ill they may die from encephalitis – severe brain infection,” Ferguson said.
West Nile is not the only insect-borne disease to affect the Davis area.
“Locally, we have several viruses, including West Nile, Saint Louis and Western Equine encephalitis that can cause disease in people,” said Dr. Gregory Lanzaro, in an e-mail interview. Lanzaro is the director of the UC Mosquito Research Program, which will be hosting its annual Malaria Awareness Day event Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the University Club Lounge. “These viruses can infect the central nervous system and cause serious neurological disease and even death. This is not the common outcome, but it does happen.”
Information distributed on Volunteer Day will include suggestions, such as draining any standing water in which mosquitoes might breed, using functioning door and window screens and avoiding the outdoors at sunrise and sunset, when mosquitoes are most active.
“There are no drugs or vaccines and no cure for West Nile. The best protection is to stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are biting. If this is not possible, mosquito repellants and long sleeve shirts and pants can be worn to reduce mosquito bites,” Lanzaro said.
The mosquitoes could pose a problem for intramural sports teams at UC Davis, Ferguson said.
“I think all members of the Davis community should be concerned about West Nile, particularly if they are involved in activities that place them at risk for mosquito contact. For example, when playing sports activities at night – that may be the biggest risk for Davis students,” Ferguson said.
Volunteer Day, a part of Mosquito Awareness Week, is only one component of the district’s ongoing efforts.
“The District provides year-round mosquito vector control services,” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to protect public health and welfare from West Nile virus and other vector-borne diseases.”
In addition to disseminating information, the district’s services include ecological management to eliminate the sources of mosquito breeding in habitats and even the raising of species of fish which specifically prey on mosquitoes.
The district will also be hosting a community education forum in Davis next month, on May 13 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Center.
J. DANA STUSTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.XXX