Mosquitoes, the pesky insects that breed in water, feed on ankles and carry the West Nile virus, will probably be more abundant this summer, two area entomologists are predicting.
With more consistent rain this spring and summer, the insects will have more places to breed and hatch than during last summer's drought, said Chris Evans, an entomologist with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"That may not necessarily mean more disease," Evans said, referring to the West Nile virus, "but it definitely means more mosquitoes."
Stagnant water in gutters, ditches, buckets and bird baths can serve as breeding grounds for the insects. Female mosquitoes can lay more than 100 eggs on the surface of any standing water, and most of the eggs hatch in about 48 hours.
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Erin Benson, an urban entomology specialist and professor at Clemson University, said mosquitoes are good at surviving rough periods, such as last year's drought.
Benson said the biting creatures have a high reproductive potential, so when times get bad, the ones who survive can easily bring the population back.
"But as soon as you make a prediction about insects, they prove you wrong," Benson added. "It's like they're listening in on the conversation."
Mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus and can pass it on to people, birds and other animals with their bite. The virus causes flu-like symptoms. The elderly and people with weak immune systems could have more serious problems such as muscular tremors, high fever and sometimes death.
Two West Nile cases have been reported in South Carolina this year in birds or other animals, one of them in York County. No human cases have been reported this year, according to state health officials.
Health officials say one of the most important ways to keep the mosquito population down is to eliminate standing water around homes.
With rain coming more steadily now, it's going to take work from York County residents to "tip and drip" their water catchers on a weekly basis to keep the population down, Evans said.
"Mosquitoes have been known to breed in something as small as a Coke bottle cap," Evans explained. "No amount of water is really too small."
The city of Rock Hill has a standing water ordinance that prohibits man-made yard objects such as buckets and flower pots from being permitted to collect water over long periods. Vacant swimming pools especially have been a problem for neighbors.
Dawn Byers, city neighborhood inspections supervisor, said residents called several times a week to complain about pools and other water catchers in neighbors' yards before the ordinance was passed in August 2004.
Only seven residents were cited last year under the ordinance, Byers said. There wasn't much of a water problem during last year's drought. One resident has been cited so far this year, she said.
"Some yards accumulate a lot of things, and homeowners aren't always in contact with those things on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis," Byers said about tires, buckets and other yard ornaments.
"People aren't aware these things are causing a problem, but once we tell them, they realize they can take care of it."
DHEC suggests people take other steps to prevent themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes when they are outdoors.
"You cannot eliminate mosquitoes, and you can't eradicate them," DHEC spokeswoman Clair Boatwright said. "You can reduce your risk, and that's what we're encouraging everyone to do."
• Use a repellent containing DEET, Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Follow the label directions when using any repellent.
• Keep property clear of standing water in which mosquitoes can breed.
• Stay inside when mosquitoes are most active, at dawn and dusk, or wear long sleeves and pants.
• Keep screens on windows and doors in good repair.
• Be aware of the symptoms of West Nile virus.
Source: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control