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Frank Gray

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The woods near Walker’s home is a warehouse for the insects that fill her house. The problem prevents her from going about daily activities.

Pesky mosquitoes, pesky policies

Photos by Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Mosquitoes cling to Carol Walker’s coat as she walks around her house. “I’ve called the city, and they say nothing can be done to get rid of the mosquitoes,” she said.

Carol Walker wasn’t hysterical but certainly in near-panic mode when she called about the situation down on Central Drive.

Central Drive is a short street that stretches between Pontiac Street and Creighton Avenue at Creighton’s extreme east end. For years now, Walker said, the people on the street have been plagued by mosquitoes that breed in overgrown lots and a small woodlot at the end of Creighton.

The mosquitoes make it impossible for kids to play outside, she said. When she takes her pets into the yard, mosquitoes hitch rides on them and get into the house, where they coat the walls and ceilings.

A couple of guys who work as mechanics next door say it is nearly impossible to work outside because they’re constantly bitten, and customers don’t like to come by because there are so many of the biting bugs.

Walker says she’s called 311 repeatedly over the years to complain, but no one’s ever come out to spray, and the overgrown lots remain untouched.

If she let her property get that overgrown, she says, she’d be in jail.

The day I dropped by to see for myself it was windy, with gusts making it impossible for mosquitoes to swarm in a leisurely fashion. But a brief walk into some shallow grass across the street showed what Walker was talking about.

Looking down, I discovered that my pants had quickly become covered by the bugs. I swatted them off with my notebook and retreated but still got a handful of mosquito bites on my arm.

I’d look into it, I told her, and left.

Dave Fiess is director of vector control and environmental services for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health. He’s familiar with the area Walker is complaining about.

Back in the wooded area, he says, are some railroad tracks, and there’s a salt marsh and some wetlands with a ditch and retention areas. There are several spots like that in the county, he says, cranking out clouds of mosquitoes.

But there’s not a lot his department can do, he says.

The mosquitoes plaguing Walker’s neighborhood are known as nuisance mosquitoes. They emerge after rainy periods, and the eggs they lay in low-lying areas can live for 10 years.

But they don’t carry diseases, so the county does not spray to control them, Fiess said.

The bugs that carry West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis like hot, dry weather and don’t come out until July. The health department traps those mosquitoes to test whether they carry diseases.

Even then, the department, which has less money on hand today than in 2012, sprays only when it detects mosquitoes carrying encephalitis, which can be fatal 30 percent of the time, Fiess says. It doesn’t spray even when it detects mosquitoes carrying West Nile, which is uncommon and rarely fatal.

Fiess could only offer advice to Walker and her neighbors. They can wear insect repellant and use what is called a barrier spray on bushes and weeds. If a mosquito lands on one of the treated plants, the chemical will kill it. Those sprays cost about $6.

They can also buy hand foggers, which come in different forms, but one, which uses propane, costs $70, not counting the propane or the chemical. Walker had complained that it was all about money, and she’s right. The county says it doesn’t have the money, so she’ll have to pay to treat her property herself.

But officials with Neighborhood Code offered some encouragement. It said no one had complained about uncontrolled weeds, but some of the property with tall weeds belongs to CSX. Neighborhood Code contacted the railroad and asked that the properties be mowed.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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