ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Summer often means mosquito bites, and so far it’s a been a banner year for the pesky insects swarming in Albuquerque.
But the Zika virus should not be a concern for local residents, say experts, because there has been no sign of mosquitoes carrying that virus here. However, researchers at New Mexico State University are attempting to map where any such mosquitoes might be found in the state.
As for the overall numbers in the Albuquerque area, “It’s going to be a bad year,” said Paul Smith, manager of the city’s Urban Biology Division. “We’re just going to see mosquitoes in high numbers throughout the rest of the season.”
Those high numbers are thanks to early spring rains, strong runoff from winter snows and increased flow in the Rio Grande through the bosque.
Although experts say Zika should not be a concern, they say the West Nile virus is. City staffers haven’t found any mosquitoes carrying West Nile this year, Smith said, but they have found specimens with the virus every previous year since 2003.
Seventy to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus don’t develop systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five people may develop a fever with symptoms that include headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, people might develop a neurologic illness that can be fatal.
Meanwhile, the Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease, has garnered the most publicity recently. Mosquito species in South American countries have been infecting thousands with the virus, believed to be tied to birth defects.
But there is no evidence of any mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus in the Albuquerque area, according to Smith.
“We’re not at this time concerned with … Zika,” he said.
Dr. Paul Ettestad, the state’s public health veterinarian, said the state has had three confirmed cases of Zika, but those people didn’t contract the virus in New Mexico. He said there’s no record of “local transmission” in the state.
Researchers are still trying to determine the potential for Zika problems later.
NMSU, working with a $90,000 grant from the Department of Health, is attempting to map where Zika-carrying mosquitoes can be found.
Kathryn Hanley and Michaela Buenemann are the two NMSU professors in charge of that project,
Hanley told the Journal she knows the mosquitoes that carry Zika are in New Mexico, most likely in the southern part of the state.
She and her crews will be checking sites across the state in attempt to locate them.
Hanley, who has been trying to do such mapping for years, said she finally got funding when Zika entered the national spotlight.
“If we want to assess our risk, if we want to know ‘Am I at risk of Zika infection from a mosquito bite?’ we need to know where that mosquito is,” Hanley said in a statement.
Bruce Hofkin, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico, said it makes sense that mosquitoes are more prevalent this year, given wet weather in the spring. Hofkin also said “bone-dry heat,” could knock down the mosquito presence.
Residents can call 311 to request insecticide spraying for infested public areas. City crews will not spray private homes, but they can spray along streets, Smith said. Crews are working nights and weekends to meet the demand, but it may take a while to catch up.
“We would please ask for good information but also that they be patient with us as we process through all the requests that we’re getting,” Smith said.
Citizens can be proactive by wearing insect repellent or calling city services at 311 when they notice a mosquito-infested area. Pools of standing water, such as flower pots or pets’ water bowls, should be emptied regularly to prevent creating habitats for the pests.
Those looking to avoid becoming a free buffet should also avoid heavily infested areas during mosquito peak active hours, dawn and dusk.
People should also avoid heavily vegetated areas that serve as sanctuaries for the bloodsuckers, Smith said.
“If they get disturbed, you’re going to get a large cloud of mosquitoes that will come chasing after you,” Smith said.
Mosquito season typically starts in late May and ends at the beginning of autumn.