Hurricane Florence brought the usual effects of a large storm like flooding, road closures and fallen trees. But North Carolina residents have also had to deal with something unexpected — mosquitoes.
An uptick in mosquito populations across North Carolina have been reported in the weeks following Florence, prompting government intervention to help mitigate their presence in affected areas.
On Sept. 26, Gov. Roy Cooper directed $4 million towards mosquito control efforts in 27 counties severely impacted by the storm. Allocation varies by county and is based on their share of the total acreage in need of mosquito treatment. Local officials will have flexibility in determining the most appropriate use of funds.
“To help local communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I’ve directed state funds for mosquito control efforts to protect people who live in hard-hit areas,” Gov. Cooper said in a press release.
Mosquito populations often rise following a weather event like Hurricane Florence. Most mosquitoes in North Carolina do not transmit human disease, but the threat remains. The most common diseases transmitted by mosquitoes in North Carolina are LaCrosse encephalitis, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis — which, in their most severe forms, can affect the nervous system or cause brain damage.
Michael Waldvogel, entomology professor at North Carolina State University, said "floodwater mosquitoes" often lay their eggs in dry areas. Once inundated with water, the eggs hatch.
“Those eggs are durable,” he said. “They can last for months or even years just sitting there waiting for a flood to show up. That’s why you get this explosive development that occurs about 10 to 14 days after a flooding event.”
Waldvogel is more concerned with the government’s response to this occurrence rather than the mosquitoes themselves.
“What we’ve seen is the counties have reacted by initiating spray programs,” he said. “That is always of great concern, and I like to think nobody wants to spray pesticides if they can avoid it.”
Affected counties should start to see a decline in mosquito populations once pond-water sources start to dry up, Waldvogel said. Mosquito control efforts often ignore the eggs and larvae found in water, allowing populations to remain strong even after spraying pesticides.
“It’s going to be a couple weeks — even where they’ve sprayed — because that’s not a once-and-done deal,” he said. “When you spray for mosquitoes, you’re spraying for adults because that’s the immediate public health threat.”
Clara Gold, a Hampstead resident, said she was forced to open windows while without power after Florence, letting many mosquitoes inside her house.
“I live right on the water, so I’ve been seeing mosquitoes everywhere,” she said. “I haven’t been outside that much, and I’m still covered in mosquito bites.”
Gold said she noticed significantly more mosquitoes around her home than before the storm.
“It’s really hot,” she said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons there’s so many mosquitoes around.”
Waldvogel said his biggest concern is the nuisance biting that negatively impacts individuals who are trying to recover their lives and repair their homes.
“When you’re constantly being assaulted by these mosquitoes, it gets disruptive to your recovery activities,” he said.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using mosquito repellent containing DEET or an equivalent when outside to avoid vector-borne diseases.
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