Summer storms have brought not only needed moisture to the state, but lots of mosquitoes as well.
And that has created conditions ripe for the potentially deadly illness West Nile to take hold this summer, officials said.
“I am worried that we may have West Nile cases that are going to be coming up in the next few weeks,” said Paul Ettestad, the state’s public health veterinarian.
Paul Smith, manager of Albuquerque’s urban biology division, spends a lot of time these days peering into a microscope at dead mosquitoes.
Once a week, he and other Albuquerque officials collect mosquito samples at 18 sites in the city’s Rio Grande bosque and analyze them at the city’s lab.
Smith and his co-workers have seen plenty since the monsoon season cranked up last month.
They also get lots of calls — at least eight on Tuesday — from people asking the city to send out a truck to spray for mosquitoes. Albuquerque has two trucks that spray pesticides on request.
“We have seen an uptick in the number of spray requests and complaints of both standing water and seeing adult mosquitoes,” Smith said.
No cases of mosquito-borne West Nile virus have been reported this summer in New Mexico, either in humans or horses, health officials said.
But as early as mid-July, Albuquerque officials found West Nile virus in mosquitoes collected in the city, Smith said.
Ettestad said New Mexico has no formal system for tracking the size of the mosquito population.
But, based on anecdotal reports, “I just know the (mosquito) population is high,” he said.
The West Nile virus is potentially fatal to humans, horses and certain kinds of birds, which serve as a reservoir for the virus, which is transmitted by certain species of mosquitoes.
New Mexico recorded 38 human cases of the virus in 2013, including three fatalities, state records show.
Common West Nile virus symptoms are fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches.
Anyone who has these symptoms should see a health care provider.
In rare cases, West Nile virus can infect the brain and cause meningitis or encephalitis, which can have lasting effects.
Symptoms in horses include fever, weakness of hind limbs, convulsions, aimless wandering and difficulty swallowing.
West Nile virus and heartworms in pets are the two diseases transmitted by mosquitoes in New Mexico.
The mosquito season here extends from July to October.
Take measures to protect yourself, officials urge.
The first step is vigilance, Smith said.
“We encourage people to look around their properties” for standing water where mosquitoes can breed, he said.
Likely spots include flower pots, old tires, buckets, outdoor pet dishes, birdbaths and fountains in poor repair, he said. Keep containers empty and replace water for pets frequently.
For homeowners with ponds, the city provides free “mosquito fish,” or gambusia, which are available at a variety of garden and pond stores.
Homeowners also can buy “mosquito dunks” — a pesticide toxic only to mosquito larvae — at many hardware and home improvement stores.
Pet owners are urged to speak with a veterinarian about heartworm prevention.