Last year, California recorded the highest number of human West Nile infections since 2005, and the drought exacerbated mosquito activity in many areas of the state.
Dan Morain questioned the state Assembly’s provision of $4 million in cap-and-trade funds for mosquito research (“Using windfalls, paper to flight climate change,” Forum, May 24).
However, this funding is critical to protect public health, and it would enhance prospects for federally funded research in California. Even Gov. Jerry Brown has asked health care providers to consider the threat of vector-borne diseases due to climate change in their priorities.
Urban mosquito populations tend to thrive during droughts, as they have fewer sources of water overall but do quite well in artificial sources typically found in residential communities. This contributed to the more than 800 reported cases of West Nile virus in California last year, including 561 cases being the more serious, neuroinvasive form of the disease, resulting in 31 fatalities.
The World Health Organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and countless other groups point to growth in mosquito-borne illness as a direct effect of the warming climate.
California may seem a world away from Honduras, French Polynesia and Thailand, but the mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses are now with us in California. These invasive species of mosquitoes spread through global shipping and are among the world’s worst disease carriers.
The proposed investment in research will yield many returns. California’s mosquito-control programs are global leaders already, and we can be even better. A better understanding of climate change’s impact on mosquito-borne diseases would save money by helping to target mosquito control in places and times of greatest need.
The challenges of climate change will not be overcome by “swatting mosquitoes,” as Morain asserts, and we must continue the search for better tools to control mosquitoes and emerging diseases.
Joel Buettner is president of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California and general manager of the Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District. Chris Barker is an assistant adjunct professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.