HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State officials and insect experts say wet and warm weather across the country will likely fuel an increase this summer in disease-carrying mosquitoes, including those that carry the West Nile virus.
In Florida, Tropical Storm Debby dropped up to 26 inches of rain in parts of the state in recent days. The standing water and summer temperatures are ideal conditions for mosquitoes, said Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association who lives in Orange Park, Fla., just south of Jacksonville.
"We are definitely within 10 days from now going to have a plethora of mosquitoes," said Conlon, a retired Navy entomologist, adding that the mosquito breeding cycle is usually seven to 10 days.
In Connecticut, officials at the state Agricultural Experiment Station said Thursday that they've seen a more than two-fold increase in the population of the mosquito species that plays the biggest role in spreading West Nile virus, possibly due to the mild winter and recent rainy and hot weather. Officials say many mosquitoes probably survived the winter in basements and other shelters.
The station's chief medical entomologist, Theodore Andreadis said there were, on average, about 50 mosquitoes of the culex pipiens variety in each of the station's nearly 90 traps statewide last week. He says there are usually 20 per trap. The station trapped nearly 14,500 mosquitoes two weeks ago, down from nearly 21,500 from the same week last year, Andreadis said.
West Nile virus hasn't been detected anywhere in Connecticut yet this year, but Andreadis said he expects it to start showing up soon.
"With the very high number of culex pipiens, we would usually see a West Nile virus buildup," he said.
In Arizona on Wednesday, health officials confirmed the first human case of West Nile virus of the state's monsoon season. And in Kentucky, an entomologist said recently that mosquitoes have been increasing since March and the winter wasn't cold enough to kill a lot of mosquitoes and their eggs.
State officials are urging people to take precautions against mosquitoes including eliminating standing water on their properties, cleaning gutters and going inside at dusk and dawn.
Only two human cases of West Nile virus have been reported this year to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: the one in Arizona and another in Texas. No one has died. Last year, there were 486 human cases and 43 deaths from the disease, whose symptoms range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe neurological symptoms. The virus is commonly transmitted between birds and mosquitoes that feed on birds, then to humans by mosquitoes.
Roger Nasci, chief of the Arboviral Diseases Branch of the CDC, said the early onset of spring can lead to a larger mosquito population by extending the growing season. But he said the situation can vary widely depending on rainfall, temperatures and other local conditions.
"We have seen what appears to be earlier transmission, and more intense transmission, of West Nile virus in some areas" including Dallas and Northern California, said Nasci, who is based in Fort Collins, Colo.
Connecticut officials set up a mosquito information display Thursday in Hartford as part of National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.
Paul Capotosto, a wildlife expert with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said recent rains and upcoming temperatures in the 90s could lead to a mosquito boom in the next few weeks. He said mosquito problems are already getting worse.
"People have been calling us about how bad the mosquitoes are at sunset," Capotosto said.
The DEEP has done its usual larvicide applications in state-owned coastal areas this year to curb mosquito populations, but it hasn't taken any extra steps to fight the insects. Many cities and towns including Hartford have already begun spraying mosquito larvicide, like many municipalities across the country.
Back in Florida, Miami-Dade County control operations manager Chalmers Vasquez said his agency has been spraying for mosquitoes for about a month now, as South Florida is about halfway through its mosquito season. The county resumed spraying for mosquitoes Thursday morning, when high winds from Tropical Storm Debby finally died down.
"This year has been bad," Vasquez said. "We're expecting more because of Tropical Storm Debby, and the rains that flooded the area. We're going to see a lot more mosquitoes in the next few days."
Rain leads to more mosquitoes in the county's densely populated coastal areas, but winds carrying mosquitoes from Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park exacerbate the problem, Vasquez said.
"We're more concerned about rain in the parks because that's where the huge breeding grounds are," he said.
"We have more of a mosquito problem than most," Vasquez said. "We're surrounded by two national parks where no control of mosquitoes is allowed."
Associated Press writers Michael Melia in Hartford and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.