- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Gary Larson says he’s caught many mosquitoes near northern Shawnee County’s Elmont Elementary School in a wooded area with plenty of vegetation and standing water.

“We like to put mosquito traps in a target-rich environment and this has been a pretty good one,” the Shawnee County Health Agency employee said this past week.

Larson works with a new county program that monitors the presence of mosquitoes capable of spreading disease, The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2rYjMyI ) reported.

The health agency catches mosquitoes at six sites countywide to be tested for the West Nile Virus, the county commission learned this past Monday from Ed Kalas, the agency’s environmental and community health division manager.

Commissioners Bob Archer, Kevin Cook and Shelly Buhler voted 3-0 that day to enter into a contract to pay $10,000 to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to acquire mosquito surveillance and education materials through Oct. 31.

The contract requires the county to conduct surveillance by setting out and retrieving mosquito traps weekly and shipping mosquito specimens it catches to the Kansas Biological Survey for evaluation.

The department has been catching mosquitoes and having them tested since mid-May, Kalas said.

West Nile Virus has been detected in mosquitoes at two of the testing sites. The program has also detected at least one species here capable of spreading the Zika virus, though testing for that wasn’t conducted, Kalas said.

“We are monitoring for the Zika mosquito populations, but not testing them for the virus,” he said.

The increasing presence of mosquitoes bearing the Zika virus in warm-weather climates has brought rising concern in the U.S., though this country apparently has yet to see anyone get the virus from being bitten by local mosquitoes.

Eighty-three different types of mosquitoes live in Shawnee County, according to Kalas.

He used a map Monday to illustrate for commissioners how the health agency each week sets out a mosquito trap at the Topeka Zoo, plus one trap each in the areas of Elmont, Silver Lake, Lake Sherwood, Wakarusa and Aquarian Acres.

On Tuesday evenings, Larson said he drives an 80-mile circuit to set out each trap.

Larson and another county employee then visit three traps each on Wednesday mornings to collect whatever’s been caught.

Five of the traps attract mosquitoes using a light and carbon dioxide, which is produced by the melting of dry ice, Larson said.

The other, which is at the zoo, emits scents commonly given off by human skin, he said.

Though temperatures were in the upper 70s, Larson put on a light jacket about 7:15 a.m. this past Wednesday as he prepared to enter the mosquito-infested area where he’d hung a trap near chest-level from a tree branch near Elmont School.

“The purpose of the jacket is to not get bit,” he explained.

Larson chose not to spray any mosquito repellent on his skin, saying he didn’t want to get repellent on the trap.

He removed from the trap netting in which numerous small insects, most of them mosquitoes, were caught.

From outside the bag, he used his fingers to push the insects deeper inside the netting.

Larson pulled the drawstring, sealing them inside, then put the netting inside a paper bag and put the bag inside a cooler surrounded by dry ice.

Larson next drove to a trap he’d set up in an area that’s not open to the public at the zoo. He found only one mosquito inside.

The health agency hasn’t been catching many mosquitoes at the zoo, Larson said.

In addition to monitoring mosquitoes, Kalas said the agency is asking people to dump standing water, which is a place where mosquitoes often breed.

The agency on its Facebook site has declared each Friday as “Shawnee County Dump Day” and encouraged residents on that day to dump any standing water they see.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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