Irene's lasting gift to the region: a lot more mosquitoes to swat

While you enjoy the late summer weather at soccer practices, on morning walks and during afternoon yardwork, don't forget the mosquito repellent.

Mosquito populations are "exceedingly high for this time of year," Theodore Andreadis, chief medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said this week. "We're collecting very high numbers at all our traps."

Higher-than-normal rainfall before Tropical Storm Irene is to blame, Andreadis said. Because of the rains, breeding areas where water pools in the spring but usually dries out by late summer stayed wet. The network of traps maintained by the experiment station around the state usually collects 2,000 to 3,000 mosquitoes per week to test for West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis. But last week, Andreadis said, 7,000 mosquitoes were trapped. As the numbers go up, so do the chances of finding either EEE or the virus. Andreadis said mosquito populations are expected to remain high until temperatures fall into the 50s.

Thus far this summer, no cases of encephalitis have been found in Connecticut, although there was a case in New York state that caused the death of a 4-year-old child. West Nile virus has been found in traps in 30 Connecticut towns thus far, and there have been three cases of the illness in the state this summer.

In Massachusetts, high levels of West Nile-positive mosquitoes caught in traps and the death of an elderly resident from EEE have led some towns there to curtail sports and other outdoor activities after 4 p.m. There has been one case of West Nile illness in Massachusetts this year. Andreadis said that during migratory season this fall, EEE and the virus could be carried into the state in infected birds flying south that are then bitten by mosquitoes that also bite humans.

While most of the West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes in Connecticut have been found in traps in Fairfield and New Haven counties, they have also turned up in traps at the Naval submarine base in Groton and in Westbrook.

Andreadis said no mosquito control measures other than personal protection and preventive measures, such as removing standing water from around homes, are being recommended at this point.

"You could spray, but we're not advocating that," he said. It's too late in the season for larvicide to have much effect, he said, because any mosquito larvae that hatch now won't become biting adults until October, when cooler temperatures will suppress populations. The larvicide will not affect those that are now actively biting adults.

At the sub base, insecticide spraying of wetlands and other areas is planned, said Chris Zendan, public affairs officer at the base. There is an ongoing effort to eliminate any pools of standing water, he added. Sub base personnel and their families are also being encouraged to take precautions to prevent bites, especially during the early evening and early morning hours when mosquitoes are most active.

In Old Saybrook, First Selectman Michael Pace asked the Connecticut River Area Health District to direct its mosquito control contractor to provide a post-storm application of insecticide at wetlands in town.

"It's a quality of life issue," Pace said.

He added that he has noticed mosquito populations are abundant.

"There seem to be a lot at my house," he said.

Other towns, however, have not followed Old Saybrook's example.

Stephen Mansfield, deputy director of health at the Ledge Light Health District, said his office has received few late-summer requests for the larvicide briquettes that his office provides to homeowners and communities. A few residents have called to report high mosquito populations, however.

Ledge Light provides public health services for East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, New London and Waterford.

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