Millions of Southern Californians have been attacked by a record explosion of tiny “knuckle-biters” mosquitoes known as the Aedes breed – they itch and scratch bites all over their bodies.
“I have bites on my ears, under my chin, on my breasts, between my fingers, not just on my ankles,” said Rosemary Hochschild, an LA resident. “I feel like I’m going crazy.”
However, efforts by the LA County’s Vector Control Agency to control these mosquitoes have been hampered by the pandemic.
When the pandemic began, Vector Control had to stop making service calls to residents. During these calls, the vector control inspectors will come to your home, tell you where mosquitoes are breeding, and often treat these areas with “larvicides”.
“When the pandemic came to light, we definitely had to shut down … and that was at the beginning of mosquito season,” said Anais Medina Diaz, spokeswoman for vector control in the greater LA area.
Unlike the Culex mosquitoes native to Southern California, the Aedes, or “knuckle-biteers”, attack a person repeatedly in a matter of seconds.
“Aedes are nibblers … they keep biting you,” said board-certified entomologist Sylvia Kenmuir. “They poke, poke, poke you until they decide they’ve had enough.”
Knuckle-biters mosquitoes attack day and night and breed both indoors and outdoors. And Vector Control says they only need a spoonful of water to lay their eggs.
“The Aedes mosquito can definitely breed indoors,” said entomologist Kenmuir. “When you have a sponge in the kitchen and it’s too wet. Think dog bowls. When you have kids and your brushes are in the water. These are all places where they breed.”
In addition to visiting houses and apartments, Vector Control also inspects public areas such as parks and looks for stagnant water in which mosquitoes breed. When they find water again, treat it with larvicide to kill the mosquito eggs.
But Vector Control is funded by property taxes, and with the pandemic, district officials fear many people may not be able to pay their taxes. In this case, Vector Control may need to reduce its mitigation efforts.
“We are definitely concerned about how this will affect our budget,” said Medina Diaz of Vector Control.
The Aedes mosquito is not native to southern California and can spread the Zika virus. However, according to Vector Control, there are no known cases of Zika transmission in the region this year.
LA residents who are attacked by “knuckle-biters” take matters into their own hands.
“I spray personal repellants all over my body and I also spray my head several times a day,” said Rosemary Hochschild, a downtown resident, of the I-Team after showing us dozens of bites all over her body.
But she told her neighbors on the Nextdoor app that “mosquito sprays work badly”.
A neighbor responded with a post that his friend had sprayed his lawn and deck with Listerine mouthwash “and the little demons are gone”.
Other neighbors suggested lighting citronella torches or placing fans to blow the mosquitoes away.
Entomologist Sylvia Kenmuir says there are two surefire ways to protect yourself.
“When you go outside, you must wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. And repellants will definitely help you avoid getting bitten,” Kenmuir told NBC4.