Warm winter may require preparing early for mosquitoes

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MosquitoIt’s too soon to know for sure, but after a warm February and an early spring, Wilmington residents may reaching for bug spray early this year.

Mosquitoes aren’t just aggravating. They also transmit diseases, from malaria to the Zika virus. So whether and when they emerge, and how strong in numbers they are when they do, is a public health issue charted at the local, state and federal levels. When it comes to mosquito populations, a range of factors come into play, including rain and temperature.

“This year is definitely warmer than average,” said Marie Hemmen, the vector control supervisor for New Hanover County. “It’s always hard to predict because we could get a cold front that could put everything back.”

One of the mosquitoes Hemmen is tracking is the Asian tiger. It transmits diseases such as West Nile virus, Dengue Fever and canine heartworm, she said. It also carries the Zika virus, which causes microcephaly, a birth defect.

To date, North Carolina’s 92 reported cases of Zika disease are tied to travel to Zika-affected areas, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. But that’s no reason to be complacent.

The county set traps at the end of February, instead of the usual March start date, because of the warmer weather, Hemmen said. Officials also monitor larvae in the water and saw larvae all winter long. It’s hard to say if that’s unusual, she added, because different factors influence survival.

“You’re always going to find larvae in the winter,” she said. “But we’ve been seeing a lot more.”

Still, the mosquito outlook remains unclear. Prey could be more abundant, too, she said. A late cold snap could slow everything down or warmer temperatures could make for a dry spring, which could mean fewer mosquitoes.

“It’s a wait and see kind of thing,” Hemmen added.

Other than to stay inside all summer, what can you do to protect yourself?

If you do go outside during mosquito season, take a few basic precautions, especially after mosquitoes emerge in April. Wear socks, pants and long sleeves, Hemmen said. Use an EPA-approved bug repellent. Repair torn screens and use air conditioning and keep bugs out of your home.

Also, take a hard look at your yard on a regular basis. Asian tiger mosquitos breed in containers, including bird baths, recycling bins, buckets, pool covers, children’s toys, gutters, pipes, tires and boats, according to Hemmen.

“Clean up all of that,” Hemmen said. “Clean, clean, clean. That’s key.”

Joan Quigley is and interim assistant editor at Port City Daily’s sister site, wydaily.com. Before trying a new health or fitness regimen, you should consult with your doctor.

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