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The Costs of Mosquito Control

Jessica Schurich collects mosquito samples near Boyd Lake in Loveland.
Melanie DeVries
Jessica Schurich collects mosquito samples near Boyd Lake in Loveland.

Across many parts of Colorado, recent rains and flooding have left behind ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and health concerns are growing after Boulder County officials reported the first human case of West Nile virus this week. Many cities and counties are trying to strike a balance between protecting the public and their bottom line.

The jury is still out on just how bad this year’s West Nile virus season will be, but all the extra standing water is not helping out the situation.

“That’s definitely causing a lot of what we call flood water mosquitoes,” says Sarah Evans the Environmental Manager for the Weld County Health Department.  While floodwater mosquitoes are known to be aggressive biters, she says they are not the ones responsible for carrying West Nile virus.  “What we’re looking at here is a nuisance situation, so in terms of a disease risk there’s no reason to spray.”

West Nile season typically runs between mid-July and early September. The decision to treat for mosquitoes, either in the larval stage or as adults, is left up to individual cities and counties. Both processes are labor intensive and costly.

Evans says this is why they take the wait and see approach, “We are careful we’re not doing things that we feel are not necessary to do, but we are doing what we feel we need to do to stay on top of any risk that might be present to the human population.”

Like many other northern Colorado Counties, Weld also cuts costs by outsourcing its disease surveillance and treatment.  Jessica Schurich is the Operations Manager for Colorado Mosquito Control’s Northern Front Range office.  She says her programs have expanded quit a bit over the past couple years. 

“We started picking up a lot of local municipalities because the Weld county health department couldn’t perform the scope of services they had in previous seasons just cause of budget constraints,” she says.

The Weld County Health Department isn’t the only one working with less. City of Fort Collins Parks Supervisor Mike Calhoon is also dealing with limited resources.

“We cut $100,000 out of our program this year and that was about a third of our budget,” he says. As a result, Calhoon says they chose to shorten their prevention season, so while mosquitoes may be present as early as mid-April, they will wait until the highest risk months to begin their work.

“As bad as it may seem as far as the nuisance piece really what we’re focusing and expending our resources on is trying to protect people from the disease,” says Calhoon.

This is the norm for many of the communities Colorado Mosquito Control contracts with.  For Jessica Shulrich the challenge is designing programs that met health needs while still being affordable.

“You don’t want any of the encephalitis surveillance to ever be effected or the ability to make decisions for public health. You don’t want that to change and you still want to provide the same level of service and have the same amount of data coming in, so it becomes kind of tricky to find where to cut from,” says Shulrich.

While the number crunching continues, the one bit of good news is the number of human cases of West Nile Virus in Colorado has dropped significantly since its peak at nearly 3,000 back in 2003.  Last year, only 81 cases were reported.