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Florence Woes Continue With Winds, Rain—and Giant Mosquitoes

By Chris Jasurek

North Carolina got thoroughly pounded by Hurricane Florence. The wind wasn’t as bad as had been predicted, but the torrential rain has certainly taken its toll.

Now, the rain has created another hazard. Stretches of standing water are now the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and one that has been particularly successful after the rains is three times as large as normal.

For some North Carolina residents still cleaning up after Hurricane Florence, it seems like a nightmare following a bad dream.

Robert Phillips stepped in the yard of his home in the Eastover neighborhood of Fayetteville and was immediately swarmed by the gigantic insects.

“A bad horror movie,” was how he described it.

“They were inundating me, and one landed on me. It was like a small blackbird” he exclaimed.

“I told my wife, ‘Gosh, look at the size of this thing.’ I told her that I guess I’m going to have to use a shotgun on these things if they get any bigger.”

Psorophora ciliate mosquito
A female Psorophora ciliate mosquito dropping by for dinner. (Robert Webster/ Wikimedia Commons)

Professor Michael Reiskind, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, told the Fayetteville Observer that North Carolina is home to 61 strains of mosquitoes which depend upon floodwater to hatch—so when there is a lot of flooding, there are a lot of mosquitoes.

A sign inundated by water in Nichols, South Carolina
A sign commemorating the rebuilding of the town of Nichols, which was flooded two years earlier from Hurricane Matthew, stands in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Nichols, S.C., Sept. 21, 2018. Virtually the entire town is once again flooded and inaccessible except by boat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

And some of them really are pretty big, and their bites really painful.

The blackbird-sized beast that Robert Phillips encountered was most likely a Psorophora ciliate. The flying bloodsuckers are three times the size of a normal mosquito and very aggressive.

These flood-dependent breeds of mosquitoes are always out there, but usually in very small numbers. The females lay vast numbers of eggs and the vast majority dry up before they hatch.

“The female has a strategy of laying lots and lots of eggs. The eggs are good at surviving, kind of riding it out and waiting for a big flood,” Professor Reiskind explained. “When the flood comes, we get many many billions of them.”

Carolinas Face Flooding After Hurricane Florence
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence surround two homes in Conway, S.C., on Sept. 17, 2018. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

But when a storm dumps two feet of water on the land, the way Florence did—suddenly it is heaven for these massive mosquitoes and purgatory for the people who would prefer not to be involuntary blood donors.

Still, the picture isn’t as bleak as it could be. As Professor Reiskind pointed out, “The good news is that a lot of mosquitoes we are seeing in high numbers after an event like Florence are not transmitting a lot of diseases.”

A Case of West Nile Virus

But there is a big difference between “not a lot” and “none” if you happen to be the exception to the rule.

For one resident from the town of Florence in South Carolina, that difference amounts to being infected with West Nile Virus due to a mosquito bite, according to SCNow News.

The city administration is taking the issue calmly—as given the number of mosquitoes as the area normally has, one case of a mosquito-borne illness is not out of the ordinary.

“The City of Florence has had in place and will continue to run our normal mosquito operation of a fogger truck which follows a regular weekly route and also responds to work orders submitted by residents,” the city said in a press release.

“City crews will also continue larval control which entails treating standing water areas with larvacide to eliminate mosquito’s larval habitat.”

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, most people who contract the disease don’t even have symptoms.

About 20 percent of the people who get infected will show symptoms which include fever, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, and occasionally nausea and vomiting.

About one in one hundred might get encephalitis, a dangerous swelling of the brain.

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