LANSING, Mich. — Michigan is having an unusual summer for mosquitoes. They are swarming the parks, waiting for you outside of your car and even making their way into your home.
"I've been in the mosquito business for almost 40 years now this is really an impressive population," said Ned Walker, a professor of microbiology and entomology at Michigan State University.
Walker is interested in the mosquito problem from a pest point of view and also from a disease point of view. He works both within the state of Michigan and also internationally. And he also follows mosquito populations and over the years, has done surveillance work to test for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus seven Eastern equine encephalitis virus and others in the state.
He says the reason we are seeing so many mosquitoes is because of the rain we had back in June.
"We have about 65 species of mosquitoes in Michigan and then we break them down into about five different categories on the basis of their biology. The mosquitoes that are out biting right now we call summer floodwater mosquitoes." Walker said.
The rains earlier this summer "inundated low lying grassy areas, and mosquito eggs are already present in those areas from last year," he said. "And they hatched and the larval mosquitoes which live in the water grew rapidly in the temporarily flooded grassy areas,"
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He's talking about roadside ditches, low-lying meadows, and grassy meadows.
"Within a fairly short period of time, about 10 days or so because of the high summer temperatures that produced a crop of adult mosquitoes, which were extremely numerous and just led to the present really extreme pest biting situation that we have right now in Michigan," Walker said.
Besides sucking your blood and leaving behind itchy bites that we all hate, mosquitoes can also spread disease.
But Walker says these mosquitoes are primarily pest mosquitoes and aren't really a concern for mosquito-borne illness.
"There are very few diseases that these nuisance mosquitoes transmit to people. One virus that they can transmit is called the Jamestown Canyon virus. But they generally don't transmit things like West Nile virus, or Eastern equine encephalitis virus," said Dr. Kim Signs, an epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The first mosquito-borne virus of the season was detected in June.
"We have detected the Jamestown Canyon virus. This virus does tend to be associated with those springtime or summer floodwater mosquitoes, and it can cause encephalitis or meningitis in people. And we are starting to pick up cases of Jamestown Canyon in Michigan," Signs said.
They had three cases last summer, along with 32 cases of the West Nile virus and four cases of the Eastern equine encephalitis. Two resulted in death.
So, why doesn't the health department just spray the mosquitoes to get rid of the problem?
"Mosquito spraying is very uncommon at this time, except in particular areas where, you know, they have more problems than we would necessarily here," said Linda Vail, Ingham County health officer. "A lot of spraying of toxins and those sorts of things to kill mosquitoes that are a nuisance. Rather than being a disease threat is probably not the best use of resources or way to handle the environment and exposure of people to chemicals and things like that for mosquitoes."
There is mosquito trapping on a state level.
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So here's how you can protect yourself and your family.
"We need people to be wearing long sleeves, long pants, particularly at dusk and dawn, we need people to be aware of particular areas near waters or walking along, you know, particular areas that that happened to be, you know, mosquito breeding grounds," Vail said.
You should also empty water from things outside of your home like old tires, gutters and buckets because they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
And most importantly don't forget the bug spray.
"Use an EPA registered insect repellent that has active ingredients such as DEET or procured in or other ingredients we know to be effective in repelling mosquitoes and to apply those according to the manufacturer's directions. If you're starting to experience bites, again, you may need to reapply your insect repellent," Signs said.
For more information on mosquitoes and your health click here.
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