Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 2, 2013

Nastier-than-usual mosquito might be ahead

April provided excellent breeding weather

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Who doesn’t love the sights and sounds of nature in the spring — sun-dappled lawns, leaves rustling in the breeze, the whine of a mosquito followed by a sharp curse and a sudden slap?

Well, maybe not the last one. But balmy spring weather brings visitors, and not all of them are welcome.

And by now, outdoorsy types, especially people who like puttering about in the yard after work, may have noticed that mosquitoes have emerged, buzzing, whining and biting wherever they find bare skin.

In fact, April supplied the best kind of weather for mosquitoes — spells of rain that created pockets of water ideal for laying eggs, followed by warm, dry weather for the newly hatched insects, according to Kristy Bolen, an epidemiologist for the Boyd County Health Department.

Mosquitoes in the United States are more a nuisance than a public health issue, Bolen said.

Unlike the tropics, where yellow fever and dengue fever are still problems, Kentucky mosquitoes carry nothing more serious than West Nile virus, she said.

About 80 percent of those infected by the virus never show symptoms. For those who do, the disease is like flu and symptoms include fever, aches, headaches and muscle pain. Also, it mostly affects the very young and the old.

Mosquitoes require standing water to breed, but contrary to common belief, don’t need large expanses. A tablespoon is enough for a batch of eggs, according to Bolen.

She suggested surveying the yard for any small pockets of standing water that might harbor a breeding ground.

One other tip: dusk is feeding time for mosquitoes so schedule your outdoor time accordingly.

To repel the critters, the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends products containing DEET, a chemical repellent with a smell mosquitoes dislike. The chemical repels ticks too, Bolen said.

Those who prefer not to use chemical repellents have other choices. There are several useful and ornamental plants that serve as natural repellents, according to Lori Bowling, Boyd County extension agent for horticulture.

Among them is the common kitchen herb basil, which also repels flies, Bowling said. She suggested planting it in a pot by the door or in a bed outside, or lying a few sprigs on the windowsill.

Citronella is a grass from which the oil of the same name is derived; planted outdoors it can keep the mosquitoes away.

Marigolds and ageratum also drive insects away with their smell. Marigolds contain naturally occurring pyrethrins, one of the ingredients in chemical bug sprays.

Gardeners should be wary of some other bug-repelling plants because of other undesireable properties, Bowling said. Mint, for instance, is an invasive species that if put in the ground can take over a garden. If used, it should be kept in a container.

Bowling suggested gardeners research any new plants they want to use and call the extension office for guidance.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.