Florida scientist designs trap in quest to eliminate mosquito-borne illnesses
Floodwaters in the region are attracting a type of mosquito that could be harmful to your pets, health officials say.
The mosquitoes carry diseases such as heartworms and are capable of passing the disease onto dogs. These mosquitoes are attracted to flooded areas and breed in the abundance of water, said Sharon Valentine, St. Clair County Health Department director of environmental programs.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the inland floodwater mosquito emerges roughly two weeks after heavy rains and can stay in the area for weeks because of the stagnant water in the areas.
Valentine said floodwater mosquitoes don’t typically carry human diseases like West Nile, which this week first appeared in the county, but rather have the ability to transmit heartworms to dogs — a disease that can weaken and even kill dogs in some cases.
“Anytime we have all this floodwater we’re going to see more mosquitoes that normally do not carry disease but the mosquito that is the ‘floodwater’ mosquito are the ones that carry the heartworm disease for dogs,” Valentine said. “We could see a big upsurge in that as well because of floodwater mosquito.”
Floodwater mosquitoes are considered Culex mosquitoes, a variety of mosquitos that can carry diseases harmful to animals, especially dogs. Valentine said the females lay eggs in non-moving water. She said with the Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Kaskaskia rivers all flooded, there’s a possibility Culex mosquitoes will be calling the metro-east their home and making pet owners’ lives more difficult in the coming weeks.
Cheryl Yarber, the clinic administrator at the Belleville Animal Clinic, said dog owners need to be especially careful if they live near floodwaters or in low-lying areas near water.
“We always recommend heartworm preventatives year-round because of this risk, but especially now because of the flooding in lower areas,” Yarber said. “Unfortunately, if your dog gets bit by a mosquito today you won’t no that until nine months later.”
It takes roughly 9 months for microfilaria, parasites that grow into heartworms, to show up in the bloodstream of dogs. From there a dog’s health can start to deteriorate.
“If left untreated they turn into heartworms that nest and live inside the heart of your dog,” Yarber said, noting that a dog in most cases won’t even react to a mosquito bite, unlike when it has fleas.
She said often an owner won’t even know there is a problem until heartworms have fully developed and have begun nesting inside a dog’s heart. The worms cause inflammation of blood vessels and can block blood flow leading to lung clotting and even heart failure, according to the American Heartworm Society.
On average, roughly 64 percent of dogs in the U.S. receive no heartworm preventative medication while visiting veterinary clinics, according to the American Society of Heartworms.
In an effort to curb the amount of mosquitoes in the area, the county health department distributed larvicide to many area municipalities. The insecticide is made to target mosquitoes and other insects in their larval stage and can be put into pools of stagnant water.
Valentine said cutting off mosquito reproductive cycles can be key to curbing the large amounts of bugs that are currently in the area.
“We try to interrupt their breeding cycle,” she said, noting that the insects only live for seven to 10 days. “If we can get it to that they don’t reproduce or that they’re killed, hopefully we won’t have as many as we get later in the season.”
Larvicide also is available over-the-counter for residents who want to use it on their properties, she added.
For dog owners who are hoping to make their homes safer for their pets, Yarber suggested making sure yards are mowed regularly so mosquitoes don’t use tall grass as a haven. She also said keeping dogs inside when mosquitoes are prevalent is a good idea.
Currently, Valentine said it’s hard to predict when the mosquitoes will go away, but said floodwater almost definitely will extend their stay.
In the interim, she said the public should try to wear long sleeves and long pants if they can bear it. The health department suggests the best way to prevent getting bit, or possibly contracting a mosquito-borne disease, is to reduce the number of insects around buildings through larvicide or otherwise, reduce time spent in areas where mosquito are present, and to use insect repellant with DEET.