Although mosquitoes and ticks are nothing new for New Englanders, this year, you may have already noticed greater-than-usual numbers of these pesky critters.
That's due to a very snowy winter followed by a cold wet spring. The snow acted as a comfy insulator for the adult ticks of last fall, allowing them to spend an extra long winter under a thick blanket of the white stuff, storing up their energy. In addition, according to Kirby Stafford, vice director and chief entomologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, we can expect the nymphal stage of ticks, those most known for carrying Lyme disease, will be out earlier this year and in greater numbers.
“The peak time for this stage of ticks will be June going into July,” explains Stafford, who cautions people taking part in “high-risk” activities like hiking, camping, yard work etc., to take precautions such as a thorough tick check once inside and bathing within two hours of performing these activities.
These have proven to be helpful in combating ticks from attaching to a human or animal host and possibly causing disease.
More information about ticks and how to protect yourself, your family and your pets from these ectoparasites can be found in Stafford’s Tick Handbook, available at www.ct.gov/caes.
Equally as annoying and disease-riddled as ticks are the mosquitoes in the area, who have taken particular advantage of the excessive spring flooding and re-flooding of the swamps and vernal pools. They used the extra moisture to lay additional eggs and develop completely into extra large robust, blood-sucking machines. There are 50 different species of mosquitoes buzzing throughout Connecticut.
Traditionally, mosquitoes tend eat at dawn and dusk. But this year, according to Dr. Theodore Andreadis, chief entomologist and director of mosquito trapping and testing in Connecticut, mosquitoes this year are feeding in broad daylight.
“These mosquitoes are aggressively biting, so make sure that if you are hiking, camping, barbecuing or fishing that you have repellent,” explains Andreadis, who is expecting this year the mosquitoes carrying the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus will be more abundant.
“No matter what the weather, it seems we get hit,” says Andreadis. “Last year’s hot dry summer was perfect for the West Nile mosquitoes that live more in urban and suburban areas. The wet cold conditions this year so far are perfect for the mosquitoes carrying EEE who prosper in swamps and vernal pools. EEE is far more deadly than West Nile,” warns Andreadis.
“We have been very fortunate in Connecticut that we have never had a confirmed human case. One-third of the people who contract EEE die from it and others are usually left with some degree of brain damage.”
There is no human vaccine for the EEE virus, but there is one for horses. Andreadis strongly suggests that all equine owners in the state vaccinate their animals quickly this year as it takes several weeks before the vaccine works fully.
One important line of defense against both mosquitoes and ticks is the use of repellents. Both scientists suggest using it. Repellents for mosquitoes vary, but according to Andreadis, DEET has a good track record. He recommends using the least amount needed in accordance to your activity and time outdoors.
“Apply the repellent to your clothing to lengthen the time of its effectiveness,” he explains, warning that for mosquitoes, no more than 30 percent DEET is needed. Higher levels are not more effective.
For tick repellent, Stafford suggests that a DEET concentration level needs to be at least 30 to 35 percent to be effective. For those who engage in “high-risk,” activities there is also a clothing-based repellent with permethrin in it.
In addition to DEET-based bug repellents, there are other natural products. Always check with a pediatrician when using repellents on children under age 3, and follow the directions on the products for the safest, most effective use.
Mosquitoes dislike fragrances like rosemary, sage, cinnamon, lavender and peppermint. They also are known to abhorr citronella, catnip, apple cider, soy oil, parsley, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, chrysanthemum and geranium. They are known to avoid the combination of thymol, eucalyptol, methyl salicilate — or Listerine.