An increase in precipitation has brought relief from drought conditions western Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma has faced the past two years, but with the moisture comes an increased presence of mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes tend to thrive in areas with standing water during warmer temperatures in the spring and summer months, Sebastian County extension agent Lance Kirkpatrick said.
Big rainfalls in April and May created the perfect environments for the insects to lay their eggs, said meteorologist Amy Jankowski with the National Weather Service in Tulsa.
"We have more moisture this year than we had this time last year," Jankowski said. "So as temperatures begin to start heating up, you can run into those situations where mosquitoes are going to be worse than they were last year."
However, Kirkpatrick said his office has not seen evidence of an increase in the mosquito population in Sebastian County so far this year.
"I think you’re always going to have a certain amount of them," he said. "It just kind of depends on where you’re at … and just kind of how the weather works itself in."
The biggest concern with the proliferation of mosquitoes is West Nile virus — although only one out of the 55 different kinds of mosquitoes can transfer the virus from birds to humans, and only female mosquitoes bite people, said environmental health specialist Mike Cartwright with the Arkansas Department of Health.
"You control West Nile by controlling mosquitoes," Cartwright said. "Avoiding standing water in your yard — flower pots, kids’ swimming pools, dog dishes, bird baths — it’s important to change all that stuff or empty it at least weekly."
There were 64 cases of West Nile in Arkansas last year, resulting in seven deaths, Cartwright said.
People in rural areas can take certain measures to either prevent mosquitoes from invading their living space or take care of them once they get there, Kirkpatrick said. Residents can buy traps that connect to propane tanks, foggers and mosquito "dunks," which are small doughnut-shaped pellets that can be placed in a standing water area, like a pond, that kill mosquito larvae that cover a 100-square-foot area of surface water.
"You’ve got a handful of options that you can utilize, but it’s really dependent upon your situation," Kirkpatrick said. "The easiest way to control them is try to reduce the areas where mosquitoes tend to hang out and lay their eggs."
Although West Nile vaccinations are not available for humans, Cartwright said the key to avoiding the virus — which can cause flu-like symptoms and lead to encephalitis or death for people with weakened immune systems — is prevention.
Looking ahead, Jankowski said there are no clear indications one way or the other to indicate if the summer will be particularly dry or wet. However, big rainfalls so far this spring have significantly reduced drought conditions.
"From a standpoint of a production of agriculture, given the situation we’ve been in the last two years, the moisture that we’ve received, it’s been kind of a welcome," Kirkpatrick said. "For the most part, it’s a good thing."
Despite uncertainty in the weather, all agreed mosquitoes will be a certainty in the coming months.
"They survived for millions of years, so I don’t think they’re going anywhere any time soon, unfortunately," Jankowski said. "That, along with the warmer temperatures … kind of stimulates them to come out in full force."