The drought in Northeast Ohio, while hard on crops and gardens, has an upside: It has kept mosquitoes at lower than usual levels.
But don’t be fooled.
A little rain, just enough to leave some water in containers, such as old tires and cans and in ditches, and the dormant mosquito eggs will hatch in a week or 10 days and become a horde handing out stinging bites.
“They make a quick comeback; and with the extreme heat, larvae develop more quickly,” said Dr. Gary Richard, state public health entomologist with the Ohio Department of Health and head of its Vector-borne Disease Program.
Of more concern are the disease-carrying Culex mosquitoes and black-legged deer ticks.
“While pest mosquitoes may not be too bad because of dry conditions, these are favorable conditions for the production of Culex mosquitoes, carriers of West Nile virus,” Richard said.
Activity this summer is well ahead compared with this time last year, he said.
2002, the first year of a large West Nile outbreak, was very warm and dry as well. Even though people are not being pestered by mosquitoes, they should still use repellent and wear appropriate clothing when outdoors, Richard said.
The deer tick, which spreads Lyme disease, as a general rule does not do well during a drought.
But, Richard said, the deer-tick population has grown dramatically in Ohio over the past couple of years, and the dormant ticks are just waiting for more favorable weather conditions to emerge.
In the three years before 2010, just one black-legged tick was found by checking deer heads during hunting season. But in 2010, 29 were found, and in 2011, 1,833 were found.
In Mahoning County, the Youngstown Board of Health traps mosquitoes and sends them to the Ohio Department of Health for testing. To date, according to ODH, none from the county has tested positive for West Nile Virus.
The Mahoning County District Board of Health no longer conducts surveillance because it knows mosquito-borne diseases are here.
“Instead, we recommend control measures,” said Mary Helen Smith, director of environmental health.
Control measures include eliminating standing water where mosquitoes breed, such as old tires, baby pools, flower pots and bird baths; keeping gutters flowing; and using insect repellent containing DEET, she said.