With the summer season comes a resurgence of everyone’s least favorite outdoor pests — mosquitoes and ticks.
The Tidewater area has seen torrential amounts of rain this summer, causing creeks to spill over and creating chaos for rural localities. Heavy rainfall creates the perfect environment for mosquitoes, particularly flood water breeding mosquitoes.
Recent flooding has caused a dramatic increase in these type of mosquitoes, according to Virginia Department of Health entomologist Dr. David Gaines.
“There are 60 different species of mosquitoes in Virginia and most of them are flood water species,” Gaines said. “They lay their eggs on dry ground in places they know will be flooded, then when these areas get flooded the eggs hatch when they are underwater.”
Most flood-water breeding mosquitoes lay their eggs on river flood plains, according to Gaines.
Luckily, the majority of diseases do not come from the increased number of flood-water breeding mosquitoes, although there are diseases carried by them that are not verified, Gaines said.
According to Gaines, West Nile Virus, the most common mosquito-borne disease, is found in more urban areas with underground storm sewer systems.
“The northern house mosquito is the main carrier of the virus and they like to breed in those underground sewer systems,” Gaines said.
West Nile virus can be found in some rural areas, particularly the Shenandoah Valley, and areas with more farms and livestock, according to Gaines.
The most common type of mosquito in Virginia and the Tidewater area is the Asian Tiger mosquito, which can also transmit West Nile virus and other dangerous diseases, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Other mosquito-transmitted diseases, such as the more serious Zika virus and malaria, have been reported in Virginia over the past few years.
According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, there were seven cases of Zika and 92 cases of malaria last year, although in most of those cases, the disease was contracted outside the U.S. There were two confirmed malaria cases in the Chickahominy health district counties of Charles City, Hanover, New Kent and Goochland.
There have been 19 reported cases of malaria in Virginia this year.
The area’s tick population has remained steady so far this summer.
Gaines said the Virginia Department of Health does not have a finalized number. It releases tick surveys at the end of each year.
“There’s no data, but personally I haven’t seen a dramatic increase or anything,” Gaines said. “I’ve been doing tick collections since early June and have seen a normal amount for this time of year.”
Last year, the Virginia Department of Health tracked almost 1,600 cases of human Lyme disease, its highest-ever total.
The tick that carries Lyme Disease, the black legged tick or deer tick, is generally found in places with high elevation, such as Blacksburg and other mountainous regions, according to Gaines.
The lone star tick accounts for 95 percent of the tick population in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions of Virginia, including the Middle Peninsula and Tidewater area, according to Gaines.
One of the main criteria for defining a case of Lyme disease in Virginia is the appearance of a rash, which can be misleading without a laboratory test, according to Gaines.
“Lone star ticks rule much of Virginia and carry a condition called STARI, which gets mistaken for Lyme disease,” Gaines said. “When a lone star tick bites certain people, they will develop a large rash at the site of the bite. Oftentimes, doctors will see it and call it a case of Lyme Disease without a laboratory diagnosis, which is key to confirmation.”
Another common tick borne disease is Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or spotted fever rickettsiosis. This disease is spread by three types of ticks: American dog, Rocky Mountain wood and brown dog, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Data from the Virginia Department of Health states there were 1,590 reported cases of Lyme disease and 301 cases Rocky Mountain spotted fever last year. Seventeen of those cases were in the Chickahominy health district.
So far, there have been 173 reported cases of Lyme disease and 50 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever this year.
Mosquitoes and ticks also love to bother furry family members and livestock.
Sam Banks, lead veterinarian at Tri-County Animal Hospital in King and Queen County, encourages dog and cat owners to get flea and tick prevention for their pets.
“Owners need to look out for their animals when they go outside,” Banks said. “Try to keep them away from the woods and tall grass areas as much as possible.”
Although medication can prevent most fleas and ticks from attaching to your pet, they do not prevent the spread of disease.
“There have been a lot of animals affected by and test positive for Lyme disease in the area,” Banks said. “There is a vaccination that can help protect them from the disease.”
Owners should check their pets for ticks daily or a few times a week and try to get a tick off within 24 hours, according to Banks.
Tips and Prevention
With children and families enjoying more outdoor activities for the summer, safety tips and prevention go a long way.
Some localities have mosquito control programs that spray pesticides and measure the population, such as the cities of Williamsburg and Portsmouth, and the counties of Gloucester, Henrico and Prince William.
Gloucester County public works technical crew and mosquito control worker Steve Barenski said trucks spray the pesticide and do surveillance in certain areas of Gloucester every day.
Dr. Gary Kavitz, chief of emergency services for Riverside Health System, wants parents to stay vigilant in keeping their children aware of the dangers and doing regular tick checks.
“If anybody has a tick or insect bite and subsequently starts to have a rash, fever, body aches or joint swelling, they need to be seen by a physician,” Kavitz said.
According to Kavitz, Riverside Health facilities are always on the look out for tick-borne diseases.
“We haven’t seen any increase this year,” Kavitz said. “It’s been typical for what we see every year.”
Virginia Department of Health Three Rivers District director Dr. Richard Williams said it’s best to stay clear of tick- and mosquito-friendly areas when possible.
“Stay clear of environments where you can find them,” Williams said. “Ticks like to inhabit areas with tall grasses and woodlands.
“As for mosquitoes, avoid wetlands if possible. You can use repellent for both and wear long sleeves and pants if it’s not too hot.”
Virginia Department of Health Chickahominy District director Dr. Thomas Franck said everyone can help control the mosquito population.
“We want individuals to hold responsibility for mosquitoes, at least in their own yards,” Franck said. “At least with the container breeding ones, you can do what we call ‘tip, toss, turn.’ ”
“At least once a week people should go around their yard and find any containers filled with water and make sure they tip and toss or turn them,” Williams said.
According to Williams, even as something as small as a plastic bottle cap filled with water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038 or firstname.lastname@example.org