Ready or not, mosquito season starts May 1 in Virginia

Contact Reportermcanty@dailypress.com

A tiny blood-sucker is coming to interrupt your hikes, cookouts and evening walks.

Drawn to your warmth, she'll pierce your skin with a whisper, pulling out the nutrients she needs to lay eggs and make more like her.

Chances are you've given her a perfect nest nearby, in the standing water on your drain spout, the small puddle on a tarp cover or a splash of water under your air conditioning unit. An old tire with water gathering in it can produce tens of thousands of mosquitoes.

"Mosquitoes only need a capful of water to breed," York County mosquito control biologist Elizabeth Hodson said. "Our motto is, 'If you're feeding them, you're breeding them.' They're somewhere close to you, breeding."

May 1 marks the start of mosquito season in Virginia. Over the past few weeks, mosquito abatement teams in Hampton Roads prepped for a new season of the flying, biting pests. On Friday, Hodson and a mosquito abatement team trekked through several areas in York County, dumping out standing water and placing mosquito bricks — packets of bacteria toxic to mosquito larvae that last about 30 days.

With extra attention on mosquito-borne viruses in 2016 because of the Zika virus, Hodson said many have become more vigilant about checking for standing water in their yards and on their property, but they still miss a few spots.

"People think they have their gutters clean, but they breed thousands and thousands of mosquitoes," Hodson said. People often ignore water gathered in umbrella stands, rain barrels and water pooled in or near basketball hoops. Trash littered along highways and city streets also provides perfect places for mosquitoes to breed, she said.

"If the water is standing still, they're interested," Hodson said. "The best way to cut down on mosquitoes is to get rid of places they can breed."

York County has roughly 43,000 acres of water to monitor for mosquito activity. Thirty-five species of mosquitos have been found during surveys in York County, but one species officials monitor closely is the black-and-white striped Asian tiger mosquito, York County Mosquito Control states on its website.

The Asian tiger mosquito is one of the most common and widespread mosquitoes in Virginia, according to the state department of health. It likes to live around people, and unlike other mosquitoes, it flies and feeds during the day.

Its role as a vector for viruses made it infamous last year as the Zika virus, one with no vaccine, spread in South America and into Florida. Its wildfire spread caused the World Health Organization to declare it a global health emergency.

In Virginia, diseases such as West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis and dog heartworms are more of a concern, the Centers for Disease Control says.

This week, interns from mosquito abatement units in Suffolk, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, James City County and other municipalities in the region will train at the Virginia Mosquito Control Association's training in Suffolk. They'll be taught about mosquito control and trapping, safe spraying and other techniques for mosquito season.

Monday's forecast calls for the possibility of more rain, the National Weather Service reports. To cut down on mosquitoes near you, Hodson has a suggestion.

"Walk around your yard and dump out any standing water you can see, and look under porches and in planters for water you can't," Hodson said. "Mosquito control offices in Hampton Roads are on top of it, but we need your help, too."

Canty can be reached by phone at 757-247-4832.

Don't be bugged

The Virginia Department of Health has the following tips for fighting mosquitoes in Virginia:

•Inspect residential and commercial properties to find and eliminate, dump or treat standing water.

•Spray fog bug sprays into the foliage of shrubs, hedges, ivy and other vegetation or structures where mosquitoes sit.

•Spray residual insecticide barriers on shrubs, hedges, ivy, other low vegetation or walls on properties where mosquitoes are abundant.

•Maintain screens on all home/building windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

For more information, go to vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology.

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