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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

Mosquitoes dropping like flies in Lucas County, agency says

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If you thought this year seemed relatively free of those pesky mosquitoes, you'd be right - at least in Lucas County.

Over the summer, mosquito traps set throughout the county by the Toledo Area Sanitary District captured the fewest number of the bugs in 28 years.

The district, which sprays for mosquitoes in the county, sets the traps to sample mosquito populations and look for signs of any diseases they might carry, such as West Nile virus.

There were 3,210 mosquitoes found in district traps during the summer. In the summer of 2004, district traps caught 3,662 mosquitoes, and the year before it was 5,067.

Those of you who hear "old timers" brag about how "back in the day" - the early 1980s - they swatted so many mosquitoes their arms got tired, should believe them. In 1983, the district trapped a total 38,007 mosquitoes, nearly 12 times as many as this year.

Lee Mitchell, a biologist with the sanitary district, said his organization has kept the number of mosquito traps the same through the last 28 years, as well as the sampling methods, so he considers the numbers a reliable indicator of mosquito populations over time.

Though temperatures have been into the 60s in November, mosquito season is essentially over for 2005. Mr. Mitchell said the decline in mosquitoes this year may have resulted from a mostly dry summer, as well as an increased spraying effort by the district in recent years.

The district, one of only two comprehensive mosquito-control districts in Ohio, has a $2.4 million annual budget that is funded by property taxes. It was formed in 1946 to target pest mosquitoes, not those that carry West Nile virus. But with the emergence of the virus, district officials began increasing the amount of insecticide used and started spraying in more areas of the county.

In 2002, the district sprayed 3,802 gallons of insecticide. That year, Ohio and Michigan respectively had the second and third-highest number of West Nile virus cases in the country. The virus infected 441 Ohioans, killing 31. In Michigan, there were 614 cases and 51 deaths.

The Toledo Area Sanitary District responded in 2003 by spraying the most insecticide ever: 4,698 gallons. The district has continued to spray more than normal, 3,759 gallons this year, even though West Nile cases have plummeted statewide.

There were 58 cases of West Nile virus in Ohio this year but no fatalities. Lucas County had four cases. Michigan statistics were not available yesterday because government offices were closed for the Veterans Day holiday.

Despite the drop in Toledo-area cases, Mr. Mitchell said it's likely district officials will continue their increased spraying efforts because the public demands it.

"We're trying to keep the number of mosquitoes down as low as we can," he said.

The reason: Though there are fewer cases, the West Nile virus is still circulating in the area, and the public should not get a "false sense of security." The traps used to collect the mosquitoes show the virus was present in many of the mosquitoes caught.

Some scientists speculate that, over time, humans could build up resistance to the virus, which rarely causes death or serious side effects. However, Mr. Mitchell said blood tests of people in Cleveland and other areas of the country show that's not the case and that relatively few people have been exposed to the virus.

Contact Luke Shockman at:

lshockman@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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