Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Mild winter, heavy rains, bring early onset of mosquitoes to Wilmington

Walt Wilson says this mosquito season in Wilmington is one of his busiest. Wilson has been running Mosquito Squad in both Wilmington and Myrtle Beach for the past eight years.

A mosquito’s mirror image reflected by a pond. By New Hanover County Health Department.

“We’re adding trucks and employees,” Wilson said. They now have six trucks, having added two since January. “With the mild winter and moisture, the mosquito population is exceptionally high.”

Marie Hemmen, the environmental health supervisor at New Hanover County, can confirm that. Hemmen, who is in charge of weekly mosquito monitoring, said the mosquito population increased last week because of the heavy rains a couple of weeks ago.

Hemmen said this area has seen as many as 44 different species of mosquitoes, but three types are most prevalent: the Asian tiger, the salt marsh, and the floodwater. True to their name, floodwater mosquitoes tend to populate pockets of rainwater that have collected in natural depressions in wooded, residential areas.

“We spot spray known breeding sites,” Hemmen said, adding that this breed doesn’t travel very far—unlike the salt marsh mosquito, a coastal mosquito that can travel up to 20 miles, Hemmen said. They’ve seen few salt marsh mosquitoes in the past several years.

The most prevalent mosquito in the area is the Asian tiger, the typical backyard mosquito.

“The Asian Tiger is found throughout New Hanover County because people have standing water in their yards in containers,” Hemmen said.

The breed is attracted to natural, water-collecting habitats such as tree holes and magnolia leaves, in addition to other water containers, she added.

“The things you want to worry about more are trash can lid upside down, plant saucers, or the bird bath that you forget about, used tires, 5-gallon-buckets,” Hemmen said. “People like their treasures. They don’t want to get rid of stuff.”

Asian tiger eggs hatch in seven days, so as long as people make sure to dump out collected water before that, mosquitoes shouldn’t proliferate, she said. Asian tiger mosquitoes generally live about three weeks.

Preventing mosquitoes

And for people who are overwhelmed by mosquitoes, spraying is always an option. Hemmen said New Hanover County has 29 spray zones, and Wilson says he has about 1,000 clients between New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. He sprays every 21 days, or every 14, depending on what clients want. The sun’s ultra-violet rays (not rain) is what causes the spray to degrade within a few weeks.

Mosquito Squad’s barrier-type treatment involves encasing a property and then applying the spray, via a “backpack sprayer” that works like a leaf blower, Wilson said.

“It’s not going to prevent a person from getting bitten,” he said, adding that it will, however, greatly minimize mosquito bites. “If you go out at a dusk and sit for 10 minutes and have 10 bites, we should be able to come next day, and you get one or two bites. That’s a big difference.”

But there is a lot that people can do to prevent mosquitoes, Hemmen said.

“Our first attack is educating the homeowner,” he said.

Her top tip for people is to simply avoid being outdoors during mosquitoes’ prime time, which for the Asian tiger, means early morning and late afternoon.

“Avoid dusk and dawn hours, basically,” she said.

Also, regularly dump out water container—both organic and man-made. Cover up with long sleeves, pants and socks; and wear repellent. The EPA, she said, has a website that rates repellents.

North Carolina Health and Human Resources recommends a repellent with DEET, the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. They recently sent out a news release called “Fight the Bite,” giving other mosquito prevention and control recommendations.

Watching out for Zika

People traveling to countries with mosquito-borne illnesses, namely Zika, an infection that can cause birth defects in babies born to mothers who have had it, should take extra precautions and consult the Center for Disease Control’s web page with Zika travel information:

Last August, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global public health emergency. In North Carolina, there were there were 98 cases of Zika in 2016, all of which were acquired by people when traveling out of the country.

There were another 62 cases of other mosquito-borne illnesses in the state last year. The news release did not specify which diseases those were, but stated that the most common illnesses endemic to the state are LaCrosse, West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis.

Hemmen said the county will be doing a local surveillance study with East Carolina University in June and July on the mosquito that Aedes aegypti, the Zika-carrying mosquito reported last year in Miami. It was last reported in New Hanover County in 1992.

“We’re looking to see if we still have pockets,” Hemmen said. “We want to rule out that they are here. They very rarely go in our light traps, so it’s very hard to find them.

“It would be very rare to get it here, but we’re prepared.”

Related Articles