Cities Given Oct. 31 Deadline for Joining Mosquito Abatement Districts

The county Board of Supervisors last week gave cities in the South Bay and Southeast areas until Oct. 31 to join a mosquito abatement district and begin paying for mosquito control services now funded by the county.

On a motion by Supervisor Deane Dana, the board rejected a proposal by Bob Gates, director of the county Department of Health Services, who wanted to withdraw $296,000 in county funding for mosquito control on July 1 to save money.

Instead, the board voted 3-0 last Tuesday to withdraw funding for the programs Oct. 31 if the cities have not joined a nearby district.

During the switchover period, the board authorized spending $400,000 to protect about a dozen cities in the South Bay, a handful of cities in the Southeast area and more than 25 cities in the San Gabriel Valley. The valley was given until the summer of 1988 to create a new mosquito abatement district.

Dana said the San Gabriel Valley cities are being treated differently because they have to form a valleywide district, which "could take some time."

Since 1984, when a surprise outbreak of the mosquito-borne St. Louis encephalitis virus infected 16 people in the county, killing one and contributing to the deaths of two others, the county Department of Health Services has paid the bill for controlling mosquitoes in non-member cities.

County officials said many cities have been reluctant to join a district because, before the 1984 outbreak, only a handful of cases of mosquito-borne encephalitis had ever been reported in the county.

Since the outbreak, at least four more cases have been recorded. Last July, a resident of Norwalk and a resident of Covina were hospitalized for several weeks, and finally recovered, after contracting St. Louis encephalitis from mosquitoes, according to health officials.

The virus, which attacks the brain and nervous system, causes symptoms ranging from mild fever to delirium and severe seizures.

The county's bill amounts to more than $500,000 a year, and pays for the testing of birds, which bring encephalitis into the region, and mosquitoes, which sting birds and then transfer the virus to humans.

Abatement districts also maintain "sentinel chicken flocks"--groups of chickens kept in open-air cages in six locations around the county, whose sole duty is to attract passing mosquitoes. The chickens are then regularly tested for the disease.

In addition, teams of mosquito control experts roam the county seeking out pools of stagnant water, non-chlorinated swimming pools and slow-moving river areas where newborn mosquito "wrigglers" thrive and grow to maturity. The teams use pesticides, mosquito-smothering oils, and hungry minnows to kill the wrigglers.

Frank Pelsue Jr., general manager of the Southeast Mosquito Abatement District, told the board that already this year encephalitis has been detected in mosquitoes or birds in El Monte and Covina, where his district has been hired by the county to fight mosquitoes. He said that such findings occur almost every year and are not cause for alarm.

He said the Imperial Valley has had "an unusually early year" of mosquito breeding, and the San Gabriel Valley is acting as a conduit for potentially disease-laden mosquitoes that spread from the Imperial Valley region to Los Angeles.

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