It’s the small things that are irritating

PHOTOS PROVIDED Above, an adult female mosquito takes a blood meal. Notice the red coloration in her abdomen. This is human blood. Below, a tarp holds leaves and standing water. The yellow arrows point to a few of the many mosquito larva in this picture.

It is really wet out there.

According to the National Weather Service’s closest monitoring station (Williamsport), July 2018 ranks as the wettest July on record and the fourth wettest month since records began in 1895. The previous July record was 9.65 inches in 1992. The new record now stands out at 11.99 inches.

We will have to see how August plays out, but it seems to be following a similar trend.

While this rain may seem annoying, there are some organisms that appear to be thriving. The most noticeable are the mosquitoes. When I step outside, I am instantly swarmed by these blood-seeking critters.

A simple review of their life cycle illustrates this summer’s problem. A portion of their life (eggs to pupal stage) is spent in standing water. Some of the more obvious examples are outside tires, pots and cans. But they can also include slight soil depressions (think animal tracks) or clogged gutters. The adults emerge from the water and start looking for a blood meal (it is just the females feeding). This whole cycle can occur in 7 to 10 days.

In normal summers, those breeding areas might be limited, as water-holding sites would dry out pretty quickly. But this summer, anything that can hold water has been holding it for several weeks, and multiple mosquito generations are taking advantage of this.

When the female feeds, she injects her saliva into the skin to allow the blood to flow freely from the human body to hers. (The saliva acts as an anticoagulant.) Our bodies react by producing histamines that cause the feeding site to swell and itch.

To add insult to injury is the potential for mosquitoes to spread disease. In our area, the concern is West Nile Virus (WNV).

Fortunately, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that most people (8 out of 10) infected with WNV do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms like headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of WNV disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

But the CDC estimates that about 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).

What to do? As best as possible, empty all items of standing water in your yard. With the weather pattern this summer, this may be a task to be done several times a week.

Also consider using an insecticide when venturing into the outdoors that are “hot” with mosquitoes or at least limit your time outside when they are most active: dusk and dawn.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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