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When mosquitoes attack

Woman sustains thousands of bites at Caswell

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When mosquitoes attack

Manteca residents Tracy Crane (pictured) and Scott Johnson were attacked by a large swarm of mosquitoes on Sunday evening while rafting the Stanislaus River at Caswell Memorial State Park. Crane go...

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POSTED May 23, 2013 1:26 a.m.

Tracy Crane slipped into a bikini and summer dress and joined her boyfriend Scott Johnson for a float down the Stanislaus River.

It’s become a tradition, one shared by many in the Central Valley during these warm weather months.

Crane and Johnson make this voyage with a clear understanding of the dangers that lurk beneath the murky waters – branches and rocks, thorny bushes, debris and broken glass, etc.

This year, they were dealt a painful, life-changing lesson in the dangers that buzz above the surface.

Crane and Johnson were swarmed by a large swath of mosquitoes on Sunday evening after their raft suffered a puncture and stranded the two along the banks at Caswell Memorial State Park for more than four hours.

Crane says she suffered thousands of bites all over her body, including on her eyeball. At one point, with no help in sight, Crane said she felt as if she were going to be “eaten alive. If it wasn’t for my deflated raft I would have died.”

Johnson received bites to his arms and legs only.

“It was like a horror movie,” Crane said. “The sound they made was like I had knocked down a bee hive. They were relentless. They just kept biting and biting and biting.”

“They chose me,” she later added. “If you look at my body and my boyfriend’s body, there’s a big difference. They chose me.”

Stranded & swollen

Crane and Johnson set their two-man raft into the water at approximately 4 p.m. on Sunday, hours after Crane had finished running with a friend at Fresno’s half-marathon.

Crane said she noticed the water level seemed higher than normal, but didn’t realize most of their visual landmarks were submerged until it was too late.

She estimates they traveled a mile past their usual stopping point. They steered the raft toward shore. Up until this point, the two had battled a slow leak on the raft.

“We saw that it was punctured,” Crane said, “but we should have stayed in and floated another mile.”

Instead they got out and tried to slither and bull-rush their way through heavy brush to the road on the opposite side.

In their commotion and hurry, the happy couple made angry enemies. Crane says she was immediately engulfed in a gray fog – hundreds if not thousands of mosquitoes. Johnson swatted at those that attacked his arms and legs. Crane was defenseless.

Johnson phoned 9-1-1 shortly after 8 o’clock and tried to secure help. The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department responded, but like Crane and Johnson, couldn’t cut their way through the brush.

As emergency units continued their effort, Crane and Johnson turned to the Stanislaus River for protection, plunging back into the water to keep the mosquitoes off their bodies. Instead, the blood-suckers fixed their aim on their faces.

“We were coughing up mosquitoes,” she said, “because we were swallowing them.”

Finally, the shipwrecked couple wrapped themselves in the deflated float as a last-ditch effort and prayed help would be on its way soon

Ripon Fire’s water rescue unit arrived at midnight.

“I couldn’t take the attack much longer,” Crane said.

Days after the attack Crane are still swollen and in pain. To those that know Crane well – friends and family – she’s unrecognizable.

Her face is puffy and her back flush with red bumps.

Mosquito spike

Be leery of mosquitoes, said Aaron Devencenzi, public information officer for the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District.

Water levels are higher than normal in the Stanislaus River and have created seepage areas in remote locations along its banks. Those areas are a fertile breeding ground for various species of mosquito, including the Aedes vexan, an aggressive mosquito believed to be the species that attacked Crane and Johnson.

“It is a very aggressive mosquito,” Devencenzi said, “a daytime biter. Swat at it and it will come right back at you.”

Vector Control has witnessed a frightening spike in the mosquito count near Caswell. The trap closest to Caswell, along Division Road, has reported a dramatic population surge in the last four weeks.

For the week of April 28-May 4, the Division Road trap collected 31 total mosquitoes, seven of which were vexans.

After the trap malfunctioned and reported a zero count the following week, Vector Control collected 1,095 mosquitoes for the week of May 12-18. There were 977 vexans, 81 culex tarsalis (principal carriers of the West Nile virus) and 36 culex pipiens (or Northern House Mosquitoes).

As of Wednesday, with three days left in the collection period, Vector Control reported the trap had 1,970 mosquitoes, 1,892 of which are vexans. The number of pipiens and tarsalis is down.

By comparison, that trap reported just 21 mosquitoes for the same week in 2012.

After learning of Crane and Johnson’s attack, Vector Control increased surveillance along that stretch of the Stanislaus River and treated a large area of seepage water for immature mosquitoes, a process called larviciding.

Last week, Vector Control treated for adult mosquitoes along the Stanislaus River near Division Road. A similar treatment was performed on private property in the area on Wednesday.

The neighboring district, East Side Mosquito Abatement, also detected a large flooded field in the area and has scheduled a treatment.

“This is the time of the year when you want to protect yourself. This is when you’ll start to see mosquito populations increase and the West Nile virus,” Devencenzi said. “This is time of the year you want to avoid mosquitoes.”

There have been no cases of the West Nile virus in San Joaquin County.

That’s one bit of good news for Crane, who offered her horrific story as a precautionary tale to those who plan to play in or around the Valley’s rivers and lakes.

Have fun, she says, but beware of what lurks above and below those waters.

“I love Caswell. I used to run cross country there. Love all the trials and how it’s so close to home. I’ve even camped there on a school night with my kids,” Crane said. “But I’m not OK with anybody going to Caswell right now.”

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