Men's Breakfast, August 13, 2016

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, August 13th with Darrin Griffith, assistant supervisor of the Brazoria County Mosquito Control District.  Darrin was raised in Brazoria County and went to work as an electrical contractor after high school.  After a couple of years he went to work for the Mosquito Control District as a mosquito control truck driver.  This meant a cut in pay of about fifty percent but it was much more steady work.  He also worked as a mosquito surveyor and has been promoted to assistant supervisor.  One of his jobs as assistant supervisor is community education.  He will make presentations to any community group that asks him or to school classes about mosquito control.
The Mosquito Control District is a county department with a budget of about three million per year.  It has about twelve employees.  It operates the mosquito control spray trucks that we all see.  It also surveys the mosquito population to determine where control efforts are needed.  It no longer operates mosquito control airplanes.  The district’s main mission is to control disease-carrying mosquitos, but also to control nuisance mosquitos that annoy people but do not carry disease. 
Mosquito control has become of public interest because of the Zika epidemic in Brazil and the microcephaly it produces in unborn children.  Zika is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitos in Brazil. Aedes aegypti mosquitos have been effectively driven to extinction in Texas by the Asian tiger mosquito, which came into the United States in a shipment of used tires to Mobile, Alabama several years ago.  Unfortunately, the tiger mosquito has the same bad characteristics as Aedes aegypti.  It carries diseases including yellow fever, dengue and Zika.  It preferentially feeds on humans.  It is active during daylight hours when people are working outside.  They lay eggs in containers with water such as flower pots saucers, discarded cans, untended bird baths and discarded tires.  They do not fly very far, about 100 yards from their birthplace during their life.  This makes it easy to control if you can find the source, but it is difficult to find the source of the mosquitos.  If Zika does appear in the county, it will be necessary to do detailed local spraying in people’s yards with backpack sprayers.  In some cases this may require court orders to get access to the premises.  
For most people, the symptoms of Zika are so mild they will not notice it.  A person who comes from an area with endemic Zika needs to stay indoors or use lots of mosquito repellent for a week after they return to the county.  Zika is normally transmittable for a week after exposure.  Unfortunately, a pregnant woman who gets Zika will harbor the virus and be infectious for the entire pregnancy.  Darrin has asked the health department about quarantine.  He was told that quarantine is no longer legally feasible. 
Other diseases of concern that have already been established in the area are West Nile virus and Saint Louis encephalitis.  West Nile virus has not caused many problems lately.  The reservoir animals, birds, may have developed some immunity and even people may have developed immunity since most fatalities have been in immunocompromised or older people.  The health department is no longer interested in testing dead crows or bluejays because the prevalence is low and most bird deaths are due to other causes. 
Most of the spraying effort is to control nuisance mosquitos such as salt marsh mosquitos.  These hatch in enormous numbers when weather conditions are right and can fly forty miles to find victims.  Only the Mosquito Control District can do anything about them. 
The district no longer flies its own airplanes.  A couple of years ago the supervisor, who was the only one licensed for aerial spraying, retired.  They then decided that it would be cheaper to contract aerial spraying out to a crop dusting company.  The district had two airplanes they had to maintain and a hanger they had built at the county airport and paid $10,000 per year for the land rent to the airport.  The district sold its airplanes and gave the hanger to the airport.  Darrin is still miffed that the airport got for free the hanger for which the mosquito district paid.  The contractor uses planes usually used for crop dusting but does have sprayers designed for mosquito spraying.  Mosquito spraying is also done at a higher altitude than crop spraying because mosquito spraying is meant to cover wide areas instead of the well-defined area of an agricultural field. 
There was discussion about what we can do to prevent mosquito breeding.  The main advice was to eliminate standing water, especially in smaller containers.  Larger containers such as ornamental ponds should have fish in them to eat the larva.  Native gambusia from local ditches work well.  Goldfish will also work.  Darrin also suggested that standing water that can’t support fish be treated with dish soap or small amounts of diesel fuel.  Darrin said the diesel fuel is the best larvacide, although it is no longer approved by the EPA.  The EPA has approved a heavier oil for this purpose but it is not as readily available or convenient.  However, diesel fuel is approved as a diluent for spraying pesticides such as Malathion.
The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be held Saturday, September 10th.