A Century-plus of Mosquito Protection

A look at one of our changemaking clients, Marin Sonoma Mosquito Vector Control

by Debbie Arrington

Public-minded residents have always been on the front line of local mosquito control. It’s a healthy tradition that stretches back more than a century.

“In the early 1900s, the San Rafael area was almost unlivable because of huge black clouds of salt-marsh mosquitoes,” explains Phil Smith, the District Manager of the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District.

Swarms of mosquitoes bred in the swampy marshland that surrounds San Francisco Bay. People wore head nets to ride the ferry or venture outdoors. Businesses used smudge pots outside doorways to try and ward off these biters.

The San Rafael Improvement Club, primarily led by women, was formed to combat mosquitoes and raise awareness of the problems mosquitoes cause. These insects are not just annoying, they can carry deadly disease. The club’s efforts eventually led to the passage of California’s Mosquito Abatement Act of 1915 and the formation that same year of what’s now the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District, the state’s first district of its kind.

Now serving all of Marin and Sonoma counties, the District is “an integral and essential part of maintaining good health and welfare,” Smith says. “We work closely with municipalities and state and federal agencies to control mosquito populations and test for mosquito-borne diseases.”

Through surveillance, trapping and testing, the District monitors the counties’ wetlands and wild areas as well as cities and suburbs, taking action when necessary. In addition to native mosquitoes, such as the Culex species that can spread West Nile virus, the District is on the lookout for invasive mosquitoes, which are spreading rapidly in California. These species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, have the potential to transmit several viruses, including dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.

“We’re neighborhood mosquito detectives,” Smith says. “We often find they’re not coming from the property where they were first reported, but from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Our technicians are excellent at tracking them down.”

Besides mosquitoes, the District controls yellowjacket nests, and provides rodent control, prevention and home inspections. It also surveys for and educates the public about ticks and tick-borne diseases.

“People often forget the millions of visitors each year who appreciate the natural beauty in both counties,” Smith adds. “Muir Woods, Point Reyes, wine country, the Sonoma coast; we’re looking out for their well-being, also.”

To be most effective, the District needs residents’ help. “Residents can be vigilant around their homes,” he says. “That includes covering rain barrels, not letting water accumulate around their property and reporting abandoned swimming pools. District experts are just a phone call away.”

“Our technicians are excellent ambassadors for vector control,” Smith says. “We’re here to help. We do our best. We’re very user friendly.”

Read the full publication here.

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