No, your ears don't deceive you it's that time of year again for the annoying and potentially dangerous buzz of mosquitoes.
The warm weather has brought the start of mosquito season in the Central Valley and a renewed need to reach for the insect repellent. The Legislature has declared it West Nile Virus and Mosquito Control Awareness Week across the state as area mosquito abatement districts swing into full gear.
"The mosquitoes are still out there and we need the public to report them," said Allan Inman, manager of the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District. "We rely on the public to call us and let us know if they have a mosquito problem."
With only eight technicians covering the entire county, Inman said eliminating the spread of mosquitoes and reducing bites is even more crucial.
People can avoid bites by wearing light-colored, long-sleeve clothing, avoiding mosquito habitats during dawn or dusk, and using repellents with 30 percent DEET, a colorless oily liquid that repels mosquitoes.
Draining standing water and reporting swimming pools with mosquito infestations is also important. "Water is the key. If there's no standing water, there's no mosquitoes," Inman said.
Merced, Modesto, Turlock and San Joaquin County have begun their annual surveillance and control operations for mosquitoes that might be carrying West Nile virus.
Since the disease was first detected in Merced County in 2004, Inman said his team has been in "disease prevention mode."
"It's been a game-changer for us and we have to concentrate our resources on the mosquitoes that carry disease," Inman said. "Right now, we've mapped where all the West Nile virus cases in humans and animals were located last year, and technicians are treating those breeding sources."
In 2012 in Merced County, there were 13 reported cases of West Nile virus in people, the second highest incident rate since 2005, when 28 cases were reported. In 2011 and 2010, there were four cases, according to Inman.
"It just shows that this disease is here to stay, and it has peaks and valleys," he said, adding that the disease's peak months are July, August and September.
While most people will not suffer any lasting health issues from a West Nile infection, in rare cases the disease can lead to serious neurological problems and even death. There is no treatment or vaccine for the illness, which is spread to humans by infected mosquitoes.
Officials urge the public to take action to fight mosquitoes and the potentially deadly diseases they spread.
"If you see an area with a lot of mosquitoes, give us a call," Inman said. "We'll try to find and eliminate the source."
Monitoring the region
All of the area abatement districts regularly monitor the insect's numbers and infection in the region. They also provide the public with free services to help them slow mosquito proliferation by eliminating their favorite breeding place, stagnant water.
Hot lines to each region's abatement district are available, and the public is urged to call to report heavy mosquito activity or problems with standing water on their property or elsewhere.
The public also is asked to report any dead birds or squirrels, which may have died from the virus. Birds, squirrels and horses all are susceptible to West Nile, but only mosquitoes can transfer it to humans.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2477.
Modesto Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.
WEST NILE: AT A GLANCE
About one in five people infected will have fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting or swollen lymph glands, lasting a few days to several weeks.
One in 150 of those infected suffer a debilitating attack, with fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, severe weakness, tremors, coma and paralysis. This form of the illness can be fatal or cause long-term neurological effects.
The five D's for preventing mosquito bites:
Dusk and dawn Stay indoors when mosquitoes are biting.
Dress Wear clothing that protects the skin from bites.
DEET Use mosquito repellent containing DEET.
Drain Empty containers holding water around your home.
To report mosquito problems:
Merced County Mosquito Abatement District: (209) 722-1527, (800) 622-3242 or www.mcmosquito.org
To report dead birds or squirrels:
Toll-free state hot line: (877) 968-2473 or www.westnile.ca.gov
Don't touch dead animals.