Athens may soon see a mosquito population explosion, thanks to the generous rains of recent days.
“Populations are going to be on the rise in a significant fashion,” said University of Georgia entomologist Elmer Gray.
That’s the bad news, but there’s good, too: We don’t really have to worry about the last mosquito-borne health menace, the Zika virus, Gray explained.
Zika virus has been mainly transmitted in two ways — sexually and by mosquito bites, particularly the bites of Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito.
Aegypti and yellow fever were once a big problem in Georgia, but aegypti mosquitoes are now rare in Georgia, though monitors detected a small population in the Columbus area a few years ago.
The main kind of mosquito we have around here is Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, which showed up in Texas and Florida about 30 years ago and soon proliferated throughout the Southeast, including Georgia.
Though Albopictus is biologically capable of transmitting Zika virus, its behavioral patterns make it a poor vector, Gray said.
Aegypti mosquitoes prefer humans as a source of blood meals. That makes it more likely that they might spread Zika, a virus that can cause horrible birth defects among other health consequences.
Albopictus isn’t so choosy about its blood sources, Grey said. After piercing a human, it might suck its next blood meal out of a dog or other warm-blooded animal, not susceptible to the virus.
In addition, Zika seems to be one of those diseases that shows huge swings in prevalence from year to year.
Puerto Rico had 35,000 Zika cases last year; this year there have been less than 500, Gray said.
Although tiger mosquitoes feed on many animals, it doesn’t so much like birds, which makes it a poor transmitter for another disease-causing organism, West Nile virus. Birds like robins and crows can carry high levels of West Nile virus, which can be transmitted to humans when a mosquito feeds on an infected bird, then a person.
The main mosquito vector for West Nile virus in the Southeast is the Southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, which we do have in Clarke County. West Nile is endemic in Georgia, Gray said, but most people infected with West Nile will never know it as few become seriously ill.
We can minimize the likelihood of mosquito bites with several simple steps, Gray said:
- Eliminate places that have accumulated standing water, such as gutters, plant pots or buckets in the yard, and especially old tires. Those are the kinds of places Albopictus uses to breed.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; besides being more comfortable, you’ll tone down your body’s heat image as perceived by the insects.
- In areas of standing water that can’t be simply poured out, such as retention ponds, inexpensive larvicidal briquettes are available. Placed in the water, they will kill mosquito larvae, but not harm other animals or us. The water in containers that continuously hold water, such as bird baths, should be replaced at least weekly.
More tips on preventing mosquito bites are at the Athens-Clarke County government website under “Tips for Reducing Mosquitoes & Avoiding Their Bites,” http://www.athensclarkecounty.com/civicalerts.aspx?AID=1737.