Megan Bernard, chief pilot of the Malheur County Vector Control District, showcases different traps used to track mosquito populations and get samples to test for the West Nile virus. Only two mosquito breeds in the area hold the virus. (Kezia Setyawan/The Enterprise)

VALE – The summer hunt for mosquitoes is on in Malheur County.

The buzzy little insects are worrisome for spread the West Nile virus.

For most people, getting bitten by an infected mosquito is an annoyance. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people don’t feel sick even if they are infected. But about 1 in 5 will develop a fever or other symptoms and about 1 in 150 will become seriously ill, according to the CDC.

Malheur County Vector Control sprays through the summer to limit the mosquitoes, and now uses a drone for applications.

On Thursday, state officials reported Thursday that the virus was found for the first time this season in Malheur County.

"Health officials are advising people in Malheur County to take precautions against mosquitoes to avoid the risk of infection, including preventing mosquito bites. West Nile is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito," according to a statement from the Malheur County Health Department.

Megan Bernard, the chief pilot at Malheur County Vector Control, is working on her license to fly and apply product in the area. She has worked for vector control for about three years and said that there have been great improvements in apps such as MapitFast and equipment that allows them to apply pesticides more efficiently.

Bernard said that she never envisioned that she would be working in this position.

“When I first started, I thought that mosquitoes were just a nuisance and they had no purpose” but slowly learned that male mosquitoes are actually pollinators and play a really important role in the ecosystem.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water – anything from a puddle to a bird bath. They can fly as far as seven miles.

During a typical year, Bernard would also be doing educational outreach in the community. In a normal year, she would go to county fairs and even speak to preschoolers to make the public more aware of what Vector Control does as well as how to take personal steps for mosquito control. 

Bernard and Andrew Harper, operational manager, agree that since the program’s establishment, it has been well received in the community. During the first couple of years, Harper and his team focused on building trust with landowners and just getting the groundwork ready.

Now, there’s “more acceptance. Once they see us, they know we’re not a nuisance and we’re here to help,” Harper said.

As the county progresses through the summer, Vector Control provides mosquito treatment in 30- and 45-day cycles using equipment like foggers, traps, and sprays done aerially with the drone.

They have one outpost in Jordan Valley to help with covering the range of ecosystems that Malheur County covers. They conduct lab tests and observe larvae and pupae populations throughout the county to monitor for the West Nile virus.

The best thing for Bernard is “when people see me out in the field and people are asking questions and letting them know what we’re doing and how the work affects them.”

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