Danger lurks in the air after floodwaters recede

Published 11:02 pm Sunday, May 29, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — As floodwaters drop, the threat of mosquito-borne diseases will rise — people returning home should remember that even a flowerpot can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus and other diseases, Mississippi officials warn.

This week, Tunica County officials expect to let dozens of families return to the Cutoff community.

“Obviously as folks are going back in after the flooding, it’s important to do the common sense things we talk about every summer,” said Dr. Paul Byers, acting state epidemiologist. “Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts — that limits the area where mosquitoes can bite you.”

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Use insect repellent, stay inside as much as possible and remove all standing water, he said.

As the rivers and tributaries drop, it’s the mosquitoes that hatch in “trapped” pools such as holes left by uprooted trees, puddles created by tire tracks, buckets and birdbaths that could cause health concerns, said Jerome Goddard, medical and veterinary entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Mississippi’s first West Nile Virus case this year was reported last week in Tallahatchie County. Mississippi reported eight cases last year and 53 in 2009.

Even though most of the mosquitoes won’t carry disease, it makes sense to avoid them, said Wendy Varnado, entomologist with the Mississippi Department of Health.

“Floodwater mosquitoes are vicious, relentless biters,” even during the daytime, Varnado said.

Mosquito abatement is generally a task of counties and cities. Services vary.

If people call the Health Department, state officials will work to coordinate abatement efforts with local jurisdictions when possible, department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said.

Byers said the federal government helped with mosquitoes after Hurricane Katrina, but it’s still too early to ask for that aid because water is still high. People can buy consumer “mosquito dunks” to kill larvae in small pools around residential areas, he said.