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Mosquito population is growing, West Nile virus is spreading. Why?


CHICAGO (NewsNation) — Mosquito season has come earlier than expected this year, and the little insects  testing positive for West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus are already plaguing much of the U.S.

“I can confidently say that this has been one of the worst mosquito seasons so far on record,” Brendan Earl, a supervising sanitarian in West Michigan, told WXMI.

After preliminary testing, multiple states have detected mosquitoes infected with WNV and EEE, according to multiple reports.

Officials in Massachusetts have urged residents to seek protective measures against mosquitos after the bugs tested positive for WNV and EEE.

Other states that have seen recent WNV activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have urged additional precautions include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.

In the U.S., there are over 200 variations of mosquitoes, but only about 12 of those types of mosquitoes can actually make humans sick, the CDC reported. The remaining types are called nuisance mosquitoes, which means they bother people but aren’t spreading germs.

The problem is that it’s impossible to tell if a mosquito is spreading germs when it bites. Therefore, CDC officials urge Americans to protect themselves as best they can from the bugs.

Mosquitos that spread germs

More than 700,000 people die worldwide from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes each year, according to the CDC.

Among the 12 or so types of mosquitoes that can spread viruses, Aedes species mosquitoes, Culex species mosquitoes and Anopheles species mosquitoes are the most common.

These mosquitoes can transfer West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases. Some of those include: Cache Valley, Eastern equine encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon, La Crosse encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis.

Denguechikungunya, and Zika are also mosquito-borne diseases that have caused outbreaks in some U.S. states and territories, the CDC reported.

What is West Nile virus?

The WNV is the most common and the leading cause of mosquito-borne illness in the U.S., the CDC reported. The virus is most commonly spread through an infected mosquito’s bite, the report said.

Those infected with WNV could experience fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea or rash, the report said.

What is Eastern equine encephalitis?

Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, is a lot less common than WNV. However, it’s a serious disease with a 30% death rate if contracted.

EEE has similar symptoms to WNV but those who are suffering from EEE can also experience seizures, behavioral changes and drowsiness.

While EEE is rare, officials in Massachusetts, Georgia and Rhode Island have urged the public to take action after the virus was detected in mosquitoes over the past few weeks.

How viruses are spread

WNV is circulated in the environment by mosquitos and birds, and people get infected after a mosquito feeds on an infected bird and then bites a person, the CDC reported.

Humans are not able to spread the virus to other mosquitoes who bite them because there aren’t high enough levels of the disease in the bloodstream, according to the CDC. However, while it’s rare, humans can pass WNV to other humans through blood transfusions, organ transplants or during pregnancy, the report said.

Why are they spreading?

Mosquito season reaches its peak during the hot summer months, according to Holistic Pest Solutions,

However, the mosquito population has already increased faster than normal due to higher temperatures and record rainfall, according to multiple reports. Heavy rain often leads to a lot of standing water, which is a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

A single old tire full of water can produce 10,000 mosquitoes in the summer. The rain gutters on a house, ornamental ponds and buckets left outside can also lead to an increase in mosquito population.

South Dakota State University Extension Urban Entomologist Amanda Bachmann told NewsNation affiliate KELO that the main carriers of West Nile Virus often appear after sunset.

What should Americans do to keep safe?

The public plays a role in reducing mosquito populations, so reminding Americans of what they can do to help is essential in fighting the bite.

While there are no preventative vaccines or treatments for the virus in people, there are ways humans can protect themselves and their families.

Charles Abadam, Suffolk Mosquito Control Superintendent, said people can help limit the mosquito population by emptying containers that can hold water including old tires, gutters, puddles in tarps, kiddie pools, etc.

Business owners can help by clearing gutters and keeping parking lots litter-free. Additionally, ensuring lids are closed on dumpsters and trashcans can prevent rainwater from building up.

Bachman also suggests that people protect themselves with an EPA-approved mosquito repellant and to wear long sleeves and pants.

One study by the University of Washington found mosquitoes are attracted to some colors more than others. Americans can expect to get bit more if wearing orange, red, cyan or black. For those looking for any tips to stay protected can wear green, purple, blue or white; the colors the study suggests mosquitoes ignore the most.

How to mosquito-proof your home

In addition to protecting the body, here’s a list of CDC-recommended steps Americans can take to mosquito-proof their homes:

  • Install and use screens on windows and doors. Make sure all holes in the screens are repaired.
  • Use air conditioning.
  • Eliminate any water-holding containers in or near your home
    • It’s important to empty and scrub items, such as tires, buckets, toys, birdbaths or trash containers, once a week to prevent mosquito breeding grounds.

Protecting your pets

Don’t forget about beloved pets. If humans need protecting, so do they. Here are some ways Americans can keep their animals safe, according to Boston.com:

  • Flush and clean out any water bowls or troughs used to feed animals at least once a week.
  • Farm animals should be housed inside barns or indoor stalls at night to reduce the risk of exposure.
  • Animal owners are encouraged to discuss with their vets for information regarding approved, animal-safe insect repellent.

NewsNation affiliates WAVY and KELO contributed to this report.