Mos­quito plague tak­ing over the skies in N. Carolina after flood­ing in Florence

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Dalvin Brown

Cassie Vadovsky re­turned home after pick­ing up her 4-year-old daugh­ter from school on Tues­day evening and was greeted by a swarm of blood-thirsty mos­qui­toes.

Not just any mos­qui­toes. Ag­gres­sive, mon­strous pests with stripes on their legs.

“It was like a flurry – like it was snow­ing mos­qui­toes,” the stay-at-home mother of two said. “I think my car ag­i­tated them. I waited for them to calm down be­fore I grabbed the kids and then ran into the house.”

Vadovsky is just one of the many peo­ple in North Carolina who is fight­ing against a mon­ster mos­quito out­break, the re­sult of flood­ing caused by Hur­ri­cane Florence.

“It didn’t hit au­to­mat­i­cally. It was more grad­ual. It took maybe three or four days after the storm passed be­fore it got to this epidemic level,” she said. “And I’m not even on the side of town that had the ma­jor flood­ing. Imag­ine how bad it could be over on that end.”

Mos­quito ex­perts say flood­wa­ters can cause eggs that would have other­wise laid dor­mant for over a year to hatch – send­ing bil­lions of the vi­cious par­a­sites into the air.

The ones plagu­ing the Caroli­nas are called “Gallinip­pers,” or “Psorophora cil­i­ata,” ac­cord­ing to en­to­mol­o­gist Michael Wald­vo­gel of North Carolina State Univer­sity. The species can be three times as large as av­er­age mos­qui­toes, and the lar­vae are known to prey on aquatic an­i­mals that are as large as tad­poles. The fe­males grow up to feed on large mam­mals, hu­mans in­cluded.

“There’s 61 species of mos­qui­toes in North Carolina, and, of those, prob­a­bly 15 to 20 would be highly re­spon­sive to flood­wa­ters in this way,” said Michael Reiskind, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of the Depart­ment of En­to­mol­ogy and Plant Pathol­ogy at NCSU. “When you have ma­jor flood­ing, a lot of these eggs hatch, and you can see rapid pop­u­la­tion growth.” Just how much growth? Reiskind, an en­to­mol­o­gist, sur­veyed an area in Raleigh, the state’s cap­i­tal, around the time of Hur­ri­cane Florence to mon­i­tor mos­quito pop­u­la­tions.

“Be­fore the storm, I went out for five min­utes and counted just three mos­qui­toes in that time. A week after the storm, in those five min­utes I had eight of them. Then after two weeks, (I counted) 50 in that time, and our area didn’t get hit the hard­est,” Reiskind said.

Vadovsky posted a video on Face­book of the swarm around her home, gen­er­at­ing over 76,000 views and count­ing. In the video, her daugh­ter can be heard ask­ing, “Why are you do­ing that – tak­ing pic­tures of the wasps?” To which Vadovsky responds, “They’re not wasps. They’re mos­qui­toes.”

One com­menter on the video, Pen­nie Thomas, said the mos­qui­toes “bit me through my shoe over here in Fayet­teville.” Reiskind said larger species could bite through one or two lay­ers of cot­ton “pretty eas­ily.”

Vadovsky said the blood­suck­ers rest on the win­dows out­side her fam­ily’s home in large num­bers, wait­ing to at­tack. When she or a rel­a­tive goes out­side, the mos­qui­toes swarm.

So what’s the good news?

Most mos­quito species don’t do well once the weather gets cold, so the ex­perts sus­pect this plague will die down in the com­ing weeks.

Un­til then, Reiskind sug­gests peo­ple in ar­eas rav­aged by the storm wear long sleeves and spray in­sec­ti­cides.

In the wake of the mos­quito out­break, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper or­dered $4 mil­lion in con­trol ef­forts to help coun­ties hit by Florence.

“FEMA pro­vides re­im­burse­ment for lo­cal agen­cies to spray for mos­qui­toes. So it is pos­si­ble for a county health depart­ment to do aerial spray­ing, but not ev­ery county does it,” Reiskind said.

If your area doesn’t spray, ex­perts say Mos­quito Dunks, dough­nut­shaped prod­ucts that at­tack mos­qui­toes in their de­vel­op­men­tal stages, can help stop the spread of mos­qui­toes. They can be found at lo­cal hard­ware stores.

“These small disks of freeze-dried bac­te­ria dis­si­pate in wa­ter and in­hibit the re­pro­duc­tive cy­cle of mos­qui­toes. It’s not an in­sec­ti­cide. It’s a more nat­u­ral so­lu­tion that re­ally works,” said Rachel Noble, a pro­fes­sor at the UNC In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Sciences.

She warned that the mos­quito species in the Caroli­nas are ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing West Nile virus and en­cephali­tis.

GETTY IM­AGES

Mos­qui­toes are pests no mat­ter their species, but North Carolina is deal­ing with some par­tic­u­larly big ones after Hur­ri­cane Florence.

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