Vector Control in the Greater El Paso Community
The City of El Paso maintains an active vector control team, which is part of the Health & Safety Program of the Code Compliance Division within the Environmental Services Department. The team is responsible for a variety of inspections and activities within the City of El Paso, in addition to providing service to the County of El Paso and other local municipalities within the County, as identified in interlocal agreements between the City of El Paso and these entities.
What is a Vector?
A vector is defined as any agent (person, animal or micro-organism) that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen into another living organism.
In the case of the vector control team, trapping, sampling, abatement, treatment, inspection and enforcement activities are directed toward protecting the greater El Paso community from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and rodents.
The vector control team only addresses issues related to potential vectors (mosquitoes and rodents). Not all insects are vectors.
Mosquitoes are well-known carriers (vectors) of many diseases harmful to humans, including the West Nile Virus, which can prove deadly to children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. In an effort to control the breeding of mosquitoes and to minimize their impact on area residents, the following activities are conducted in the El Paso area:
Trapping – Mosquito traps are placed at different locations around the City, usually in areas where past analysis has shown the likelihood for mosquito breeding, and also based on citizen request for trapping in a given area.
Larvacide Application – Placing larvacide in standing water on public property has proven to be a pro-active method of minimizing the number of mosquitoes that are able to reach adulthood and feed on the blood of humans. By applying larvacide to areas where mosquitoes have laid eggs, larva are prevented from breathing oxygen from air above the water surface, and die before they can fully develop into adults. Areas on public property known to have standing water, such as storm retention ponds, are tested regularly for the presence of larva, and are treated accordingly.
Fogging – Fogging operations are conducted by spraying a fine mist of mineral oil into the air, which adheres to adult mosquitoes’ wings, causing them to fall to the ground and starve to death. Vector control schedules areas to be fogged based on trapping data (more than 20 mosquitoes captured in a trap or more than five mosquitoes landing on an inspector), proximity to standing water, and environmental conditions, such as temperature, wind speed and precipitation. Fogging is conducted from public roadways, and usually extends 300 feet on either side of the road.
Rats are known vectors of many diseases dangerous to humans, so proper controls must be put in place to minimize their presence and travel within buildings in El Paso. Persons who are responsible for businesses in the City are required to follow certain requirements to prevent harboring of rats and the entry of rats onto the premises. Vector control conducts inspections to enforce the provisions of the El Paso City Code, Chapter 9.28 (Rat Control) to ensure that these methods are being followed by business owners in the City.
In addition to the inspections and activities listed above, the vector control team also frequently encounters the following issues:
Pools and Standing Water on Private Properties
Failure of an owner or occupant to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes in water on privately owned properties in the City may result in a violation of Chapter 9.24 of the El Paso City Code. Often, a notice of correction is issued to the owner or occupant, and if not corrected, a citation may be issued, involving a fine or appearance in Municipal Court.
During the 2013 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, Senate Bill No. 186 was passed, allowing municipalities to treat, without notice to the property owner, certain cases of mosquito breeding in standing water at vacant residential properties. This law is currently under review by the City Attorney, in order to assist the Environmental Services Department with developing a mosquito abatement policy and procedure which adheres to the law.
Insect infestations that occur at properties that are not being properly maintained may be inspected by building and zoning inspectors in the Code Compliance Division of the Environmental Services Department. Some examples are infestations of flies or cockroaches as a result of brush overgrowth, poorly maintained roofs and walls of buildings, and the presence of structures or objects in a yard that would harbor insects. Usually, these nuisance conditions are also tied to the accumulation of garbage or improperly stored food on the premises, or the presence of water from poorly-maintained plumbing systems.
Because insect infestation cases are addressed according to the City’s Property Maintenance Code, they are not considered a vector control activity. If a property maintenance inspection results in violations being observed, the property owner is required to address the situation causing the nuisance, which may also involving hiring an exterminator to remediate the infestation.
Currently, honeybees are not addressed within the El Paso City Code. Due to the recent trend in colony die-offs of millions of bees nationwide, concern has been raised that bees should be protected, when possible, rather than exterminated as pests.
Extermination of a beehive at a property, especially within walls, eaves or crawlspaces can create the potential for an even worse problem. Honey, dead bees and larvae left behind may draw other pests to feed on the remains, including flies, cockroaches and rodents. The melted beeswax and honey can trap these pests, creating a mess and odor nuisance in areas that are often extremely difficult to access and clean.
Due to the fact that bedbugs are not considered vectors, the vector control team does not respond to bedbug issues. The appropriate avenue to address cases of a bedbug infestation is to consult with a pest exterminator, who can advise and treat as needed.