At first it was a mystery. How was it that during an excessively dry and hot 2007 summer that cases of West Nile disease had jumped in Bakersfield California by 276 per cent?
Dry weather is not normally associated with an abundance of mosquitos, which are transmitters of the disease from birds to humans.
Laboratories confirmed 140 cases in Bakersfield, a city of more than 800,000 in Southern California.
According to researchers at the University of California, aerial photography of the city showed something unusual – a high number of algae blooms in private swimming pools, hot tubs and ornamental ponds. One photograph showed 17 per cent of visible pools and hot tubs appearing green and likely producing mosquitos.
It turns out that Bakersfield was also at the epicenter of mortgage foreclosures, the downturn in the housing market leading to a 300 per cent rise in mortgage delinquencies.
Dr. William K. Reisen, a research entomologist with the Center for Vectorborne Diseases, had his team knock on the doors of these homes and found no one living there. The pools, hot tubs and water features were essentially abandoned and had become breeding grounds for the mosquitos.
The story, featured in a new book, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, reminds us that we are ultimately all in this together.