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Turlock Mosquito Abatement District workers have been buzzing all over town for the past few months in search of neglected swimming pools that have become mosquito breeding grounds. In hopes of better isolating problem spots before they start, mosquito hunters have adopted a tactic employed by their prey; they've taken to the air.

In mid-April the TMAD hired an airplane equipped with an in-flight camera, similar to the type used for crop surveying, to photograph all of the communities within the district. Through careful examination of the photographs, the district identified 477 swimming pools that were potential spawning grounds for the bothersome insects.

"We do it in way we don't miss anything," said Jerry Davis, TMAD Manager.

Of the nearly 500 possible problem pools, almost 50 percent were found to be breeding mosquitoes. Last fall, the first time the aerial photography process was used, only 10 to 15 percent of the pools investigated were positive for the pests.

"With all vacancies and foreclosures in district, swimming pools are good locations for mosquitoes to breed if not they are not maintained," Davis said. "Because of the downturn in the economy, people are not able to afford chemicals or replace a broken pump. We have even found mosquitoes in hot tubs, both connected to pools and away from pools."

According to district personnel, the mosquitoes they've been finding are the same species that have been main carriers of West Nile virus in the past. Fortunately, however, all testing has yet to identify the virus within the district this year.

"So far we have collected over 300 samples from different areas around the district," Davis said. "Every two weeks we check samples from all different areas within the district, and all have tested negative for West Nile."

Thus far, the TMAD has been encouraged by not detecting the virus in areas where it was located last year. But while Turlock has been West Nile free, Modesto has already identified three birds that have died due to the virus.

"We're starting to see West Nile surface in different areas in the Central Valley," Davis said. "It could be here already; it's just a matter of finding it."

In order to protect oneself, the TMAD suggests that anyone going out in the evening wears insect repellent containing DEET with between 25 and 35 percent concentration. Children, however, should use a weaker dosage, as DEET can be harmful when absorbed by the young.

While it's good to protect yourself from mosquitoes, it's also important to protect the community, say district officials. The majority of mosquito-related problems can be avoided with a few simple preventative measures.

If you yourself own a pond or pool that you are either incapable of maintaining or would simply like a little assistance with, the TMAD are more than willing to help, along with a few of their aquatic friends.

"We have mosquitofish, if people in the public would like to have some fish put in their ornamental ponds. We'll come and take the fish out for free, or they can come and pick them up," Davis said.

Mosquitofish are small fish, just about two inches long, that eat the aquatic larvae and pupae of mosquitoes before they can fly away and start causing trouble.

"The whole idea behind it is to get fish in ponds to keep them from breeding mosquitoes," Davis said. "That way we don't have to spray, we don't have to find the ponds, and we save the public money in the long run."