By Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
School is back in session and it may seem like summer is coming to a close, but peak mosquito season is just starting. Mosquito larvae need standing water to complete their life cycle and because of the rains this summer, they’ve found items outside holding water, then factor in our warm weather and they’re going to flourish which is bad news for families that want to spend time outside after school and work.
The month between August 15th and September 15th is the peak period for West Nile virus transmission in Georgia, and this season may be more active than the past two years. While Georgia hasn’t seen many cases of West Nile in recent years, it’s never totally gone away. Today the virus is described by epidemiologists as “endemic” in Georgia, which basically means that it’s always present at low levels.
Remember that West Nile was initially found in New York City in 1999 and detected in Georgia in 2001. The virus peaked in Georgia with 117 human cases in 2012. The virus commonly cycles from infected birds to mosquitoes. Occasionally, an infected mosquito will bite a human. Thankfully, only 1 out of 5 people exposed to the virus become ill, but those who do can develop very serious cases that involve encephalitis or meningitis. If someone you know becomes ill after being exposed to mosquitoes, or exhibits mental confusion, get them to a doctor immediately.
This summer, there have been seven cases of humans with West Nile in Georgia, and public health and mosquito control officials have found 105 pools of mosquitoes in DeKalb, Fulton and Chatham counties, where testing is being conducted. Officials perform this routine testing to determine how to focus mosquito control resources. The best way to prevent mosquitoes and the spread of West Nile is to eliminate their habitat.
Now is the time to take action in your surroundings against their habitat. Mosquito larvae are everywhere so check around the home and farm for standing water and remove it. Dump it at least once a week. If standing water can’t be eliminated and you see mosquito larvae, commonly called “wigglers,” or pupae called “tumblers,” the site should be treated with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved larvicide or pupacide. Remember to always read and follow all label instructions when applying any pesticides.
It is also important to remember the best techniques to preventing mosquito bites. Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing provides a significant barrier. Exposed skin should be treated with an EPA approved repellent and there are many options that are widely available. Children as young as 2 months old can be treated with DEET-based products, but always apply the repellent to the hands of an adult and then rub the repellent on the child’s exposed skin. DEET is the chemical name for the active ingredient in some insect repellent products.
Thankfully, other mosquito-borne illnesses, like Zika, are not a problem in Georgia. Zika infections have decreased worldwide, and Georgia doesn’t have a significant population of the mosquito that transmits Zika.
Dr. Elmer Gray, an entomologist with UGA Extension, provided information for this article. For more details, contact me at the Gilmer UGA Extension office.