Mosquito Abatement District helps prevent the West Nile Virus in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by CHEYENNE PETERSON

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), West Nile Virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States. 

West Nile Virus was introduced to the U.S. in 1999 and to Utah in 2003, said Greg White, the assistant director at the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District.

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Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District located at 2215 N. 2200 West.

Since 1924, the SLCMAD, located at 2215 N. 2200 West, has had a group of specialists working on keeping mosquitoes controlled in the Salt Lake area. The principal focus is on population control and limiting the spread of the West Nile Virus. 

The CDC states that the West Nile Virus often begins with a bite from an infected mosquito. Mosquito season begins in summer and ends in fall. 

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SLCMAD lab.

“We feel like we do make an impact on the West Nile Virus. We take samples of mosquitoes for [it] specifically so that we find out if they are positive for the West Nile Virus. Then we will increase control in specific areas to try to interrupt the disease transmission,” White said. 

Every year, Utah has a large amount of mosquitos and these mosquitoes tend to gravitate to areas with stagnant water. In residential areas, culex pipiens mosquitoes are very common. These mosquitoes are the specific kind that transmit the West Nile Virus and can be a nuisance at times.  

“We don’t have as much water as the midwest like Minnesota and New Jersey, but we do get all of the water runoff from the mountains that we have. That goes straight down through the Salt Lake and as it gets closer everything stops flowing so good and the water starts to get stagnant,” White said.

The Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District provides an Urban Field Operation. There are three different services available within it, but one is critical to managing the West Nile Virus. Greg White calls this service “the bicycle program.” 

The bicycle program was created by the SLCMAD to keep the pesky mosquitoes out of the city.

“We will drop some people off with bikes and they will do their routes down the residential areas of Salt Lake City. They will look for places with standing water, like drains that don’t drain properly and storm water inlets,” White said.

The program consists of four bicyclists. Each has a few disposable pockets of biopesticides that resemble Tide laundry detergent pods. They keep these pods in a pouch located on the back of their bike. When riding their bikes through residential areas and standing water is observed, they throw the pods in the stagnant water. Each treatment lasts for three to four weeks each time.   

According to the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement Center’s website, the biopesticides are “surface agents such as refined mineral oils or monomolecular films spread across the surface of the water to prevent mosquitoes from breathing. Mosquito larvae and pupae breathe through tubes called siphons that extend above the water surface.”

Cindy Oliver was diagnosed with West Nile Virus in September 2006.

“At that time there were a few cases and it was getting in the news that there was a West Nile Virus going around. In that year there were 131 cases in Utah,” said Glenn Oliver, Cindy’s husband, in a phone interview. 

According to the CDC, most people infected with West Nile Virus do not feel sick. About one in five people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About one out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness. 

Cindy said she had a headache and didn’t feel well. She thought she had a sinus infection, but it lasted for about five days.

Next, Glenn said, doctors thought she had meningitis.

Eventually they determined it was the West Nile Virus.

“She had to learn how to walk on her own again. Learn her motor skills all over again. So she couldn’t walk, talk, or do anything. She was completely wiped out of abilities,” Glenn said. 

Cindy said she spent four months recovering in hospitals. It has taken an additional 10 years of physical, occupational, and speech therapy in her home. 

“Doctors were amazed how well she has recovered, because we were expecting it to be worse,” Glenn said.

According to Cindy, “Support from family, getting better from doctors, and my faith” are the reasons why she recovered from the West Nile Virus.

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Greg White shows a visitor mosquitoes of different ages and sizes at the SLCMAD.

The Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District recommends being aware of mosquitoes in the area and to report them. Its funding is from a small portion of the Salt Lake area property taxes. After that there is no additional cost for using the services.

The CDC website suggests, “You can reduce your risk of West Nile Virus by using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent mosquito bites.”

White said, “If people have a mosquito problem in their area, we will come out, check it out and give them treatment, inspections and everything with no cost.”