Hurricanes leave behind devastation in large parts of the United States. However, the strong winds also swept away much of the mosquito population in the affected areas in South Carolina, and elsewhere. That relief was welcome, but it may be short-lived. That’s because it can take only a couple weeks before mosquito populations increase again. And it’s not just the sheer number of these pests that increases the risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as the West Nile and Zika viruses.
Standing water left behind after the hurricanes is a prime spot for mosquitoes to lay their eggs and hatch more winged pests. Pots, buckets, and wheelbarrows are all potential sources of new mosquitoes. But so is the water that collects in bromeliads and other small containers. In New Orleans, after hurricane Katrina in 2005, flooded swimming pools were a big problem. It was a while before those swimming pools are brought back online, cleaned up, or drained so those become major mosquito production sites. This could be a problem in areas hit by hurricanes, especially in Charleston, SC, where there are a lot of in-ground swimming pools. Property damage and ongoing power outages will also increase the amount of mosquito-to-person contact. A possible contributing issue to increased West Nile infections after a Hurricane is human exposure. With damage to houses, people may be sleeping outside or in exposed parts of the house. And lack of power may mean they’ll need to keep the windows and doors open in the heat.
A big concern after hurricanes are diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Many areas in South Carolina already had mosquito control programs before the hurricane, but these may get a boost post-hurricane wherever possible. They may have set up alliances with other mosquito control programs outside of what was expected to be areas of impact from the hurricane; to potentially get them in there helping with surveillance, or aerial or truck-mounted spraying if that’s deemed necessary. The U.S. Air Force Reserve will spray insecticide over roughly 600,000 acres using modified C-130 military cargo planes. The goal is to reduce the effects mosquitoes are having on recovery efforts and the possibility of a future increase in mosquito-borne disease. The insecticide, naled, is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and safe for the environment. However, officials recommend that people and their pets stay inside during the aerial spraying. Beekeepers may also want to cover their colonies during that time to keep their bees safe from exposure. South Carolina residents can help reduce mosquito populations by draining or covering standing pools of water found in buckets, flower pots, gutters, tires, and even outdoor dog bowls. They should also protect themselves by wearing long sleeves and pants, and using insect repellents. This is especially important for paramedics, firefighters, and other responders who are often out in the open for hours at a stretch. They should remember to wear repellant and remember to protect themselves because even though West Nile may not always be severe, it can also be quite severe and it can kill you.