Phone calls have been pouring in to the Kern Mosquito and Vector Control District at 10 times the rate of last year.
The reason: itchy, painful insect bites, and lots of them.
"We have a new, uninvited mosquito here in Kern County," district spokesman Terry Knight said at a news conference held Tuesday at the district headquarters.
The name of the mosquito is Aedes aegypti, known in some areas of the world as the yellow fever mosquito.
"It's an aggressive day biter as well as an evening biter," Knight said. "If it gets into your home ... the really negative impact of this mosquito is it doesn't just feed one time to take its blood meal, it usually feeds multiple times."
Residents who have been plagued by numerous insect bites in recent days and weeks may now have the answer to what is causing it.
These smaller mosquitoes were first found in Kern County in 2014, but their numbers were so low, they were not seen as a serious threat.
But that was then.
"In 2018 we only had six square miles of infected area," Knight said. "In 2019, we had 70."
"By the end of October, we were concerned ... with how the season would kick off" in 2020, he said. "Well, it kicked off with a bang."
By the end of June last year, the district had received about 60 calls for service. This season, that number grew to more than 600.
"After the Fourth of July weekend, the number of calls coming in was just explosive," Knight said.
Originally from Africa, Aedes aegypti has spread into tropical, semitropical and even some temperate zones across the globe.
It is a vector for transmitting several tropical fevers, but fortunately, most of those diseases are not active here, said Michelle Corson, spokeswoman for the Kern County Public Health Services department.
One important mosquito-borne disease that is active in Kern County, West Nile Virus, is not carried by Aedes aegypti, Corson said. It is transmitted by the more locally common Culex tarsalis and Culex quinquefasciatus.
Nevertheless, warm weather brings increased mosquito activity and everyone should take precautions to protect themselves, she said. The first confirmed West Nile Virus-carrying mosquito of 2020 has been confirmed in Kern County.
"Last year, we had 32 cases," Corson said. "The last death was in 2017."
It's usually characterized by mild symptoms. According to Corson, 80 percent of those who have it won't even know it.
But Corson and Knight still advise area residents wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors. Of course, they recognize that's not always possible, or comfortable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests using mosquito repellents that contain DEET. It also notes that while aedes aegypti mosquitoes most commonly feed at dusk and dawn, indoors, in shady areas, or when the weather is cloudy, "they can bite and spread infection all year long and at any time of day."
Knight suggests using the abrasive side of a kitchen sponge to scrub off eggs sticking to wet containers, including flower pots and the trays beneath them, buckets, bird baths, fish ponds, uncovered barrels and other containers left outdoors.
"Yard drains are in almost every new home here in Kern County," Knight said. "Some have several."
The message is clear. Anything that can hold standing water — from something as small as an upturned water bottle cap to a neglected swimming pool — is a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. Destroying the eggs or limiting breeding environments is the best way to control these pests.
For more information, call Kern Mosquito at 589-2744.