It hasn’t exactly been Noah’s flood, but officials say that standing water from recent heavy rains is likely to breed mosquitoes exponentially.
"Standing water is the key ingredient that drives mosquito breeding," said Ray Silverthorne, director of Environmental Health in Craven County. "Mosquitoes lay their eggs where they expect it to flood. Eventually when that area does get wet and flood, then those eggs will get wet and hatch out. They become larval insects in the water that eat and grow and complete their life cycle change until they become adults and fly off. Then they start feeding on others."
Most areas in Eastern North Carolina had above-average rainfall totals in June, ranging from less than an inch above normal at Cherry Point, to more than three inches in New Bern and six inches in Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service.
Silverthorne said more than 50 species of mosquitoes call North Carolina home, and bites from some of them can spread diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. In Eastern North Carolina, the main culprit is the Asian Tiger mosquito.
"Those things bite all day long," Silverthorne said. "If you go bother them, then they’re going to feed on you."
The Asian Tiger mosquito has been on the scene in North Carolina since 1978. Silverthorne said entomologists call it an artificial container breeder that needs as little as a teaspoon of water to breed.
"It doesn’t take a whole lot of water to allow these things to rear up and we’ve had a lot of water, so the opportunity is there for them," he said.
Silverthorne said residents can take action on their own to control the population of the pesky insects by eliminating standing water around their yards in places like bird baths or buckets.
"If you have anything that’s holding water, you need to make sure that any standing water in your yard drains out so that you don’t breed mosquitoes," Silverthorne said.
The tiny Asian Tiger Mosquito can’t fly far from where it hatches, so there is a high likelihood that it was born from a vessel close by, Silverthorne said.
"With the Asian Tigers, they have a very short flight range," he said. "It’s one that if you have it, either you’re breeding it or your neighbor’s breeding it. It’s something that you can do something about."
Residents with small outdoor sources of water they can’t get rid of can use store-bought "doughnuts" or pellets that contain Bacillus thuringiensis israelenis, a bacteria designed to kill mosquito larvae when they feed.
Another chemical, Methoprine, is an insect growth regulator that can have a similar effect on mosquitoes before they become blood-sucking adults.
Silverthorne said the best way to avoid the bite of mosquitoes is to avoid them. He said residents should avoid being outside at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active. He recommends that residents wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants and hats when outside, and repellents with the chemical DEET can also be effective in warding off mosquitoes.
He said state and some county mosquito control programs have been cut or even eliminated as budgets have become tighter. For example, Craven County lost funding for its program in 2011. The only cities in Craven County that have active mosquito programs that allow for possible spraying if the insects get too bad are Havelock and River Bend, according to Silverthorne.
Bill Ebron, director of public services for Havelock, said the city logs any phone calls from residents complaining about mosquitoes.
"As we compile them and start seeing a pattern emerge where it reveals to us that we do have a mosquito population that warrants spraying in the area, then mosquito spraying will be scheduled," he said.
Havelock has not done any spraying for mosquitoes this summer. However, more rain is in the forecast for Friday, and the remnants of Tropical Storm Chantal could bring even more rain to the area, according to the weather service.