By Brianna Steffensen
With this year?s expected high spring runoff and flooding, there could be an increased population of mosquitoes in Utah that may disturb relaxing evenings outdoors.
?Whenever there is a lot of precipitation early in the spring, it means more standing water which provides an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes,? said Lewis Marrott, director of Mosquito Abatement in Utah County.
More mosquitoes also mean an increase in risk of West Nile virus for Utah residents.
West Nile is a mosquito-borne virus that can infect humans, birds, horses and other mammals. It is predominantly found in corvid birds such as ravens, crows, magpies and blue jays.
From the beginning of May until mid-October, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will conduct wild bird surveillance to determine if West Nile virus exists in particular areas. Wild birds are helpful indicators of West Nile viral activity because the birds often show signs of the virus before humans.
Many people will not know they are infected with the virus while others may experience flu-like illness, serious neurological disease, encephalitis, meningitis, paralysis or even death, according to the Utah Mosquito Abatement Association Web site.
Only about one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness, and the risk of severe illness and death is highest for people over 50 years old, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The virus first appeared in North America in 1999 and has since spread across the United States. It was first detected in Utah August 2003.
?There have been approximately 600 deaths nationwide due to the West Nile virus,? said Joe Conlon, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association.
Last year in Utah, the virus was detected in 11 people ? six of whom contracted the serious neuro-invasive form. None of those resulted in death.
?Now that the virus is here, it?s going to stay,? Conlon said, ?but it probably won?t present itself in explosive epidemics.?
There is currently no vaccine or cure for the West Nile virus.
Outbreaks of the virus most often occur in July and August, but it depends on temperatures and the amount of rainfall.
?We are very concerned about the West Nile virus,? said Marrott. ?We thought we would have a lot of problems last year, but the temperatures weren?t high enough.?
The Mosquito Abatement of Utah County is already preparing for the potential increase of the mosquito population. Starting last month, specialists are checking all ponds and swampy areas between Payson and Lehi that may be mosquito breeding grounds. If mosquito larvae are found, certain materials are put in the water to prevent the larvae from hatching, Marrott said.
A GIS computer program designates every breeding area in Utah County. Because of this year?s amount of rainfall, there are many areas that have not been previously identified.
?Every little low place or ditch that holds water is an ideal mosquito nursery,? Marrott said. ?Our challenge is that sometimes we can?t get to every spot.?
Because mosquitoes can breed in water that has remained unmoved for more than four days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages homeowners to eliminate any standing water including water in potted plant dishes, garbage cans, old tires, gutters, ditches, wheelbarrows, bird baths, etc.
?The prudent thing for people to do is take preventative methods,? Conlon said.
If mosquitoes continue to be a problem in a particular area, the EPA also suggests using mosquito repellents when necessary, wearing head nets, long sleeves and long pants, making sure windows and door screens are ?bug tight? and replacing outdoor lights with yellow ?bug? lights.
?The biggest problem is that people are not using repellents,? Conlon said. ?And if people use them, they don?t reapply often enough.?
Conlon suggests using a cream repellent that has 25-30 percent active ingredient DEET.
For residents who have swampy areas near their homes, safe chemicals are available at local hardware stores that help reduce mosquito breeding.
To just enjoy a warm night on the front porch, Conlon suggests using a fan.
?Mosquitoes are poor flyers so a fan is a low-tech solution to the problem,? Conlon said.
For more information about personal protection against mosquitoes or West Nile virus, please visit: www.health.utah.gov/wnv or www.mosquito.org.