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May 22, 2007 > Don't bug me

Don't bug me

By Steve Warga

When a loyal reader tipped us about potential pest infestations in the proposed ballpark near Pacific Commons, TCV's crack investigative team fired up their computers and un-holstered their phones. "We just might have a scoop here," they thought as visions of national awards danced in their heads.

First on our target list: Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District Manager John Rusmiso. He was the last too. Rusmiso's opening response immediately disarmed our cleverly-crafted cross-examination, and ended the great investigation. Damping the fires of our disappointment, we focused on educating and informing our readers as best we could. To his credit, Rusmiso provided some interesting and informative observations along with a few war stories from the mosquito battlefield front lines.

Asked whether swarms of biting insects would plague fans watching Fremont A's ball games, Rusmiso replied, "Well, the Coliseum is near the Bay and other waters and we don't have any bug problems there." (Duh!) "I've been to a lot of games over the years and never once been bit."

Alameda's number one bug guy then revealed a little-known fact about the present home of the Athletics. "The Coliseum is actually below sea level, which means they have to contend with some collections of ground moisture at times. They have a series of sump pumps to control this.

"Occasionally, mosquito issues crop up. One time the ticket office had us come in to deal with a swarm of mosquitoes in the office. Turns out they had allowed a pump to clog and water collected from the air conditioner. The mosquitoes were coming in through the air vents."

Rusmiso observed that some grounds in the vicinity of Cushing Parkway and Bunche Drive were classified as seasonal wetlands. "But I don't envision anything like the swarms of bugs you sometimes see during games in the Midwest. We'll be able to deal with anything that might come up if the A's build out there."

Alameda's abatement forces are remarkably few, especially considering the ground they must cover and the wide variety of climates involved. Cities like Oakland are bordered by potentially massive breeding waters from the Bay. Though somewhat brackish, those waters can still hatch buzzing hordes if not carefully controlled. Areas like the Tri-Cities offer a mix of wet and dry lands. Then moving beyond the hills to Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore, abatement personnel confront near-desert climates. It's all Alameda County.

Rusmiso spoke of the serious threats posed by mosquitoes carrying the potentially fatal West Nile Virus. "Both Santa Clara County and Contra Costa County recorded multiple deaths last year from West Nile. In Alameda County, we had one. Turned out the victim was actually infected in Placer County, but moved here before he died. So we had to count that as ours. I'm real proud of how well we're doing here, even with all the wetlands we have to treat."

West Nile Virus is not the only airborne threat to local inhabitants and animals, but prevention efforts are the same. They begin with water level controls, wherever possible. Rusmiso says that raising and lowering water levels will kill mosquito eggs. It's the waters he describes as "rice paddy-like" that pose the biggest challenge. Bodies of water more exposed to wind usually don't work as breeding hosts; wave actions drown the eggs.

The district does employ environmentally-friendly sprays in certain at-risk areas. The spraying occurs during the early stages of larval development, of which mosquitoes have four. Extensive monitoring programs and ongoing research contribute also to the district's success.

Rusmiso highlighted another lesser-known defense that consists of placing mosquitofish throughout county waters, even where high salt content is present. Also known as gambusia after their generic name, gambusia affinis, these hardy and prolific fish feed on mosquito eggs and larva. They can thrive in very low concentrations of oxygen and in the higher temperature waters of interior Alameda County. Their strong resemblance to tropical guppies, in size and appearance, is evidence of their shared taxonomy family.

Abatement personnel supply mosquitofish, free, to county residents. They will even deliver fish on-site.

So, A's fans, no need to worry about bugs. Whether in Oakland or Fremont, abatement personnel are standing on deck, ready to swing at any pesky pests daring to disturb the game. Too bad those bug-beaters can't help the A's offense!

To learn more about the abatement district activities and programs, visit www.mosquitoes.org. And don't worry, involved citizens are one class of bugging they gladly tolerate.

For more information about West Nile Virus, a free seminar is scheduled next month at Washington Hospital West. Call now to register.

West Nile Virus Seminar
Wednesday, June 20
1 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Symptoms, treatments, prevention and history of the virus
Washington West Hospital
2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
(800) 963-7070

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