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Mosquitoes are all over North Carolina after Hurricane Florence. Counties will get $4 million in emergency funds to battle the pests.
North Carolina counties dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence are finding themselves battling a population surge of a familiar pest: mosquitoes.
“We’ve gotten quite a bit of calls and reports from citizens noticing a higher presence of mosquitoes, whether it’s their backyard or on the soccer field, especially at dawn and dusk,” said David Howard, assistant health director in New Hanover County, a coastal county in the southeastern part of the state. “People notice.”
The surge in mosquito populations is a well-known aftereffect of powerful hurricanes, which bring increased rainfall that leads to standing water—the preferred breeding grounds for the biting insects. Hurricane Florence—a category 1 storm when it made landfall in New Hanover County two weeks ago—dropped roughly 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina, much of it atop soil that was already saturated from a wetter-than-average summer. The result, Howard said, is pools of stagnant water in backyards, storm drains and hard-to-reach wooded areas, leading to a surge in mosquito populations along the coast.
“We pretty much expect populations to increase, partly because the mosquitoes have a lot more medium of shallow standing water,” he said. “When the soil gets very saturated the water will stand there long enough—a week or so—for mosquitoes to lay eggs and the larvae to come off, and then we have a population boom.”
In other parts of the state, residents are seeking cover from Gallinipper mosquitoes, a species that can be three times as large as average mosquitoes. The larvae can prey on aquatic life as large as tadpoles, and the full-grown insects can bite through clothing, entomologist Michael Waldvogel of North Carolina State University told USA Today.
To combat the growing problem, Gov. Roy Cooper authorized $4 million in emergency funding for mosquito control measures in 27 counties across the state, all of them currently under a major disaster declaration. A county’s specific amount of funding is “based upon their share of the total acreage requiring mosquito treatment,” a calculation made at the state level.
New Hanover County, for example, will receive $148,587, available for the duration of the current fiscal year. The county will be reimbursed for costs and can spend the money on whatever mitigation measures officials decide are most useful, most likely a combination of increased spraying with trucks as well as aerial treatments in harder-to-reach areas.
“We’re looking at everything from enhanced truck spraying to getting into wooded areas with ATVs to doing aerial spraying,” Howard said. “Everything’s on the table right now.”
Some of the money may also go toward outreach and education for residents. Much of the standing water left in communities after hurricanes sits on private property, including backyards, ditches and storm drains. County officials can help with those areas but need resident cooperation to do so, Howard said.
“If we’re able to get their help in treating certain areas—storm drains or ditches behind their homes which may be privately owned—that helps a lot,” he said. “We also advise the public that if they can get fish stocked into ditches and ponds that retain water full-time, those fish will eat the mosquito larvae.”
The ultimate concern is public health, as many species of mosquitoes in North Carolina can harbor disease, including Zika, West Nile virus and various strains of encephalitis. No cases of disease have been reported in New Hanover County, but officials there will continue to monitor for them.
“Our biggest concern, as always, is monitoring and protecting the public against disease-carrying mosquitoes,” Howard said. “Our job is to keep that risk as low as possible, and that’s what this money does for us.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.