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City brings fight to mosquitoes

Caleb Mueller, an employee with the City of Mitchell, collects a mosquito container Tuesday morning from the Pioneer Park trap, which is one of four traps in the city. The containers are placed in the freezer to kill the mosquitoes and they are counted every day. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

It’s been a tough year to be a mosquito in Mitchell.

The city has fogged for mosquitoes three times so far this year, most recently on Saturday, according to Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek. That’s after the city only fogged for mosquitoes once last year and didn’t fog at all in 2012, when a widespread drought kept the mosquito population relatively low.

But the city has received more than 7 inches of rain since May 1, according to the National Weather Service, and the mosquitoes, which thrive in wet conditions, have responded.

“If you’ve got more rain, you’ve got more standing water,” Rodiek said. “That’s just prime breeding conditions for mosquitoes.”

The city uses traps to track the rise and fall of the local mosquito population and to identify various species of the tiny, buzzing pests. The traps are located at Hitchcock Park, Munroe Park, Pioneer Park and Public Beach.

When the number of mosquitoes in the traps reaches a certain threshold for consecutive days, a fogging machine is used to spread an insecticide that targets mosquitoes and a handful of other flying bugs across the city, Rodiek said.

This year, the city got help fighting mosquitoes in the form of a $24,717 grant from the South Dakota Department of Health. A total of $500,000 in mosquito control grants were awarded to nearly 100 cities across the state by the Department of Health, with amounts based on each city’s population and its history of West Nile virus.

It’s the first time the city has received grant money for mosquito control since Rodiek took over the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in 2010. The grant will help offset a portion of the costs of mosquito control normally paid by the city, including the roughly 25 gallons of $70-per-gallon insecticide used each time the city fogs for mosquitoes, Rodiek said.

In Mitchell, as in most cities and towns across South Dakota, mosquito control has become especially relevant since the emergence of West Nile virus, which is spread mostly by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds.

As of Monday, six cases of West Nile virus had been reported in South Dakota, with no deaths, according to the Department of Health. Those cases were in Brown, Codington, Hamlin, Hand, Hughes and Lincoln counties.

In 2013, there were 149 cases of West Nile virus reported in South Dakota, including three deaths. That was down from the 203 cases reported in the state in 2012, though there were also three deaths that year.

The virus first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 and peaked in 2003, when 9,862 cases were reported nationwide, including 1,039 cases in South Dakota, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 2,469 cases and 119 deaths reported nationwide last year.

Between 70 and 80 percent of people infected with the virus will never develop any symptoms, according to the CDC. Most often, those people who do experience symptoms -- about one in five of those infected -- will develop a fever along with other symptoms, including headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most of those people will recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months, the CDC says.

Less than 1 percent of people infected with the virus will develop a serious neurologic illness, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms in these cases can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.

About 10 percent of people who develop the most severe form of the virus will die as a result, according to the CDC.

Though anyone can be infected, the CDC warns that people older than 60, and people with certain conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease, are at the greatest risk. Of the six people infected with the virus so far this year in South Dakota, three were between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the Department of Health.