POSITION: Director of the East Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control District.
Matthew Yates began working with mosquitoes in 1968 at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He graduated in 1974, and his first job in mosquito control was in Chambers County, Texas. He moved to Baton Rouge in 1985 to serve as director for the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control District. He retired last year, but continued on a part-time basis while the board looked for a new director. Yates’ last day on the job will be Sept. 21. The new director, Todd Walker, starts Sept. 24.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the mosquito control program over the years?
Greater use of less-traditional materials (juvenile hormone growth regulators and bacteria) to control the aquatic stages of mosquitoes, and the increased sophistication of aerial spray systems to control adult mosquitoes. For example, the weather station mounted under the wing of our airplane feeds real-time information on wind speed, wind direction, humidity and temperature into a computer inside the cockpit. The computer takes that information, and pre-programmed information on the insecticide, and tells the pilot, via a moving map mounted on the dash, where he/she needs to fly the plane. This ensures that the 0.5 ounces of insecticide reach the predetermined one-acre area on the ground.
Surveillance for West Nile virus started in Louisiana in 2000. Did that change how you did your job?
We must do much more surveillance now to detect West Nile virus. This requires more people, more resources and much more testing of mosquitoes. All this sampling, and the additional spraying required to contain the virus, costs a great deal more money. We took that to the voters in the city-parish in 2006 and they approved an additional 1.0 mill (in property tax). We have since rolled that 1.0-mill tax back to 0.29 mills.
What technique is most effective in battling mosquitoes?
The answer is reducing water sources, but the question gets complex when you consider that we have over 45 species of mosquitoes in the parish and the aquatic stages all occupy different habitats, and the adults have different bionomics. The two most important disease vectors breed in water-filled containers around homes and businesses. Other mosquito species breed in pasturelands, swamps, flooded areas in woods and along bayous, and these species often will fly many miles from the water sources. Our employees work hard to locate and treat these water sources following rain events, before the aquatic stages develop into flying, biting adult mosquitoes. When we can’t access the areas to treat the mosquito larvae, we attempt to spray with the plane and trucks to kill the adult mosquitoes before they fly into residential areas.
What’s something you’d like people to remember about mosquito control?
The Southern House Mosquito (bites at night, inside homes) and Asian Tiger Mosquito (bites during the day, outdoors) both lay eggs in water-filled containers around homes and businesses. The Southern House Mosquito and the Asian Tiger Mosquito are the most important species in transmitting West Nile virus from wild birds to people. People can significantly reduce their risk of contracting West Nile virus by dumping the water around their homes and businesses every week. This includes dumping the water in the little reservoir under the flower pots on the patio.
Advocate staff writer Amy Wold