The Merced County Mosquito Abatement District is ramping up its efforts against West Nile virus following its first fatal case of the year.
The victim, a woman in her late 80s, contracted the virus in an area about five miles outside of Winton.
To help fight the mosquito, an airplane was used Thursday evening to drop 53 gallons of insecticide over a 10,000 acre area, which is going to kill billions of mosquitoes.
The flight took place just after sunset, when mosquitoes are most active.
The area chosen is where mosquitoes flourish, in the wetlands and dairies of Merced County.
Allan Inman with the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District said, "This is basically ground zero for West Nile virus. It would be nearly impossible to control mosquitoes in Merced County without aircraft."
Through surveillance images, Inman knows that neighborhoods in Atwater and Merced are at the highest risks right now. "We want to interrupt the transmission cycle and that's why we're doing aerial flights there," said Inman.
The insecticide called pyrethrum is made from chrysanthemum plants. "That material displays very, very low toxicity and is extremely safe," said Inman.
Less than an ounce is sprayed on each acre. The goal is to hit mosquitoes in mid-air. "We don't want it to hit the ground; it won't kill anything once it hits the ground. It's got to get the mosquitoes while they're on the wing," said Inman.
That is a tough task that is simplified thanks to technology. A sensor attached to the plane's wing reads wind currents in real time and then relays it to an onboard computer which is running a $50,000 guidance system. "Takes the pilot right to the place they need to release the material and so the material goes exactly where we planned," said Inman.
It's a tool that's proved to be valuable, since no cases of West Nile virus have been discovered where the plane has sprayed. "This is our magic bullet. This is how we're protecting the citizens of Merced County," said Inman.
Mosquito abatement says repellant is your best friend these days, so if you're going to be out at night, make sure to wear it.