Warm winter weather may invite mosquitoes to your BBQ

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The Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive species, is responsible for most bug bites in Virginia, according to the state's Department of Health. They breed in containers, including buckets and plastic cups, and that makes them a challenge to control. (File photo)
The Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive species, is responsible for most bug bites in Virginia, according to the state’s Department of Health. They breed in containers, including buckets and plastic cups, and that makes them a challenge to control. (File photo)

It’s too soon to know for sure, but after a warm February, Historic Triangle residents may be reaching for bug spray early this year.

Mosquitoes aren’t just aggravating. They also transmit diseases, from malaria to the Zika virus.

So whether and when they emerge, and how strong in numbers they are when they do, is a public health issue charted at the local, state and federal levels.

When it comes to mosquito populations, several factors come into play, including temperature, daylight and rain.

“The only thing that you can be sure of is that there will be mosquitoes every year,” said David Gaines, Virginia’s public health entomologist.

The most common mosquito in Virginia is the Asian tiger, Gaines said. In Virginia, it transmits diseases such as West Nile virus, La Crosse encephalitis and Eastern equine encephalitis, according to the Department of Health’s website. It also carries the Zika virus, which causes microcephaly, a birth defect. To date Virginia’s 113 reported cases of Zika disease are tied to travel to Zika-affected areas.

But that’s no reason to be complacent, especially since warm winter weather can mean more Asian tiger mosquito eggs survive until spring, according to Gaines; if the eggs are exposed to harsh, cold winter temperatures, they are less likely to survive. Virginia saw extreme cold temperatures earlier this winter, but there may also have been enough snow to insulate the eggs from the effects of the freeze, he added.

Even if mosquito eggs survived the worst of the winter, March could still be unusually cold, Gaines said; on the other hand, if April and May are warmer than normal, mosquitoes could show up early.

Last year, April and early May were unusually cold, meaning that mosquitoes only came out in force at the end of May and beginning of June, according to Gaines. Usually in Williamsburg, they reach that stage by mid-May, he said.

“They’re only annoying if they’re noticeable,” Gaines said.

Other than stay inside all summer, what can you do to protect yourself?

Start by taking a hard look at your yard on a regular basis. Asian tiger mosquitoes are hard to control because they don’t breed in ponds, ditches or puddles that municipalities can target with spraying, according to the Department of Health.

They breed in containers, often on private property, including bird baths, wading pools, rain barrels, plastic toys, bottles, jars, garbage cans and lids, plant trays, clogged gutters, downspout pipes, old tires and boats.

If you do go outside during mosquito season, take a few basic steps to protect yourself. When you go out, wear socks, pants and long sleeves. Use an EPA-approved bug repellent. Repair torn screens and use air conditioning to keep bugs out of your home.

For more a video about mosquito control efforts, go here.

Read more stories about health and wellness in WYDaily’s Health Section