Happy holiday weekend, Wisconsin. Try to avoid becoming a blood meal.
That is part of the routine for anyone venturing outside this and every summer, as state health officials issue the seasonal warning about the 54 kinds of mosquitoes and 15 types of ticks, all of which are on the lookout for blood meals from any mammal handy.
So far, however, this season appears to be a normal insect summer. No bumper crops.
While the Department of Natural Resources’ weekly bulletin noted this week that mosquito and deer flies “have not been as bad as some recent years,” vigilance — and the right insect repellent — is still necessary.
John Hausbeck, environmental health supervisor at the Public Health Madison and Dane County, is up to his Deet-slathered arms in the 2016 mosquito census.
“We are finding activity, but not seeing a ton of adult mosquito activity yet,” he reported Thursday. A trap that was empty Thursday, for example, would hold “several hundred” adult mosquitoes at this time in a banner year.
“The season hasn’t started off real heavy with mosquito activity,” he said.
But, he warned, the area is just coming off heavy rains last weekend and “given the warmer temps, we can expect in a week to ten days to see a lot more mosquitoes.” That would be just about exactly this holiday weekend.
And then he said it: “People should be focusing on avoiding bites.”
The county census is focused on monitoring the mosquito population for West Nile virus and “keeping an eye out for Zika.” But the mosquito that bothers people here is not the Zika carrier but the “floodwater” mosquito that shows up every year.
Since it is nigh near impossible for the ordinary blood meal to see any difference in mosquito species, the best prevention is against them all, Hausbeck said.
“We do not have any risk for Zika, but we know that the West Nile virus is in circulation, and even though the majority of mosquitoes that bite are not going to present risk, it is important to prevent it.”
Hausbeck and staff use a repellent that is 30 percent Deet, which is said to be effective for eight hours.
As for other bugs of summer, Hausbeck said the lightning bug population seems to be out early and in large numbers.
From the tick draggers — researchers who drag white sheets through the woods collecting ticks to examine — at the UW-Madison Department of Entomology, the report is that adult deer ticks are active and will be out until midsummer.
“Anywhere in the state where there are woods, deer and mice, the deer tick can now be found,” the department reported on its tick information website.
Professor Susan Paskewitz is the university’s expert on ticks and the diseases they carry. Her past advice for walking in the woods is to wear pants and light-colored socks, especially for anyone who will spend much time in shadier, cooler areas outdoors. Ticks — especially the recently arrived lone star tick — are not fond of hot, sunny areas.
“Sprays with Deet will repel them, and permethrin will kill them,” she has recommended. Paskewitz, who treats her clothing with permethrin, said, “I’m not going to be out in the woods without that stuff. Getting some of these bacteria that use ticks as vectors can mean a lot of down time, or worse.”