PROVO The threat of West Nile virus in Utah County this summer has spurred a staffing increase to the county's mosquito abatement district.
Utah County commissioners on Tuesday approved the addition of a full-time mosquito abatement field supervisor to assist with year-round efforts to control the county's mosquito population.
Forty-three of the 100 Utahns who have tested positive for West Nile virus this year are from Utah County, including two of the three people who have died from the mosquito-borne virus, according to the state health department.
The two deaths and the county's disproportionate share of human cases in the state have resulted in an explosion of requests from the public to increase mosquito-abatement efforts in their respective communities.
As the mosquito season comes to a close, the Utah County Health Department is having trouble keeping up with those requests. Its mosquito abatement staff has just two full-time employees and 15 seasonal workers, many of whom are teachers and college students who returned to work or school in mid-August, said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the health department.
"There's an awful lot to do before (the mosquito season begins in June) and after (mid-August)," Miner said. "(The staffing is) great for the main part of the year, but we're really understaffed before and after that."
Bob Mower, Utah County mosquito abatement director, said the department has been averaging more than 40 requests for service in the past three weeks.
"We basically have one person who can service (the public)," Mower said.
The additional full-time staffer will be utilized as soon as the hiring process can be completed, Miner said. The new employee's salary and benefits for the rest of 2006 will come out surplus health department funds.
Cost of salary and benefits for the first full year of the position is estimated at $49,500. About $30,000 of that likely will come out of the $120,000 the health department budgets for seasonal, part-time mosquito abatement employees.
The new position won't affect the number of seasonal abatement workers the department can hire.
"We really should have this position to effectively do our mosquito control," Miner said.
The mosquito abatement field supervisor will be responsible for day-to-day field activities such as coordinating equipment and supplies. The new employee also will assist Mower in training seasonal staff.
Even with the new full-time position, Utah County's mosquito abatement staff is just an eighth of the size of the Salt Lake County districts, Miner said.
"We are extremely efficient in our staffing," he said. "Salt Lake County, for example, has three mosquito abatement districts and each of them has about eight full-time employees and lots of season employees."
Utah County, which had 15 cases of West Nile virus in 2005, increased its mosquito-abatement efforts this year and has successfully cut in half its mosquito population.However, more mosquitoes are carrying the virus. About 20 percent of the night-biting species of mosquito that spreads the virus are infected in Utah County, Miner said.