Wet spring, stagnant water mean 'mosquito summer from hell'

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
A wet spring and stagnant water from recent flooding have provided an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, but area health officials say there's no additional risk for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile.(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Poor Lewis and Clark.

The mosquitoes were so bad during their 1804 journey across Missouri they must have entertained a notion or two of canceling the whole expedition.

"Musquiters so thick & troublesome that it was disagreeable and painful to continue," wrote William Clark in his journal during that fateful trip.

For protection against those "musquiters" and ticks, the men in the exploration party covered their bodies with bear grease by day and slept under mosquito netting at night.

More than two centuries later, methods of pest protection have changed, but Missouri's mosquitoes remain a problem.

And following this spring's historic floods, one trade group has billed this season as the "mosquito summer from hell."

For now, however, Missouri health officials say the proliferation of the little bloodsuckers do not, at present, pose an additional health risk for deadly diseases like the West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis. But more mosquitoes bring greater chances of infection.

The record-setting floods of 2011 along the Mississippi River basin and abnormally high rainfall amounts in the Northeast, Great Lakes, Midwest and throughout the Pacific Northwest have resulted in a wet, soggy springtime in much of the U.S., the key ingredients for a mosquito summer of love, according to Joseph Conlon, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association.

"The heavy rains bode for a bumper crop of mosquitoes," Conlon said in a recent PRWeb news release.

"This is going to be the mosquito summer from hell," said Jon Cohen, mosquito control expert and president of Summit, which makes mosquito control products. "The standing water left in the aftermath of the floods and heavy rains will provide an abundance of breeding opportunities for mosquitoes."

These pest experts expect 2011 to be the worst mosquito season in decades.

Mosquitoes, for those in disease control, come in two brands: pesky biters and the disease-bearing vectors.

"Unfortunately, they don't wear signs, so we don't know which is which," said Jane Wernsman, assistant director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.

As of late last week, none of the vector types had been identified in Southeast Missouri, Wernsman said. Health officials are conducting surveillance at mosquito haunts -- stagnant, standing water. And there have been plenty of comfy spots for the pests to congregate -- and procreate -- in during this soggy spring.

"We want people to know floodwater mosquitoes that can be found after flooding are a nuisance," Jacqueline Lapine, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, wrote in an email. "Additional water in the area can increase the number of mosquitoes present but the public should know they are not a public health concern."

There were no reported cases of West Nile virus in Southeast Missouri in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rule is that any time you've got more standing water, you have greater odds for impressive mosquito populations and, by extension, a greater opportunity for mosquito-borne disease.

"With the increased amount of water we've had, we stick with prevention," Wernsman said.

Keep biters at bay

Tips from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention:

* If you're outside, wear insect repellents containing DEET. Such products, which carry some side effects for some, prevent the irritating bites from ticks and mosquitoes, and protect against the diseases these insects can carry, like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

* Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.

* Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

* Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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