Mosquito’s might be his business, but public health administrator Dante Gonzalez got more than he bargained for when he tried to clean up a house in Victoria after Hurricane Harvey.
“Despite me wearing repellent and gloves and long sleeves, they were getting all over my clothes and in my face,” said Gonzalez, who works for the Protection Division of the Corpus Christi/Nueces County Public Health District. “It was a real battle slapping myself and trying to make sure I didn’t cut my arm off with a chain saw while mosquitoes were getting in my face and eyes.”
Mosquitoes became a massive menace in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey, which caused state and federal governments to get involved. While the state began aerial spraying, Gov. Greg Abbott called out the U.S. Air Force Reserves to bring in the big guns, especially around the Houston area.
In the Coastal Bend, the most affected areas were out in the county, which had not been sprayed before the storm.
“The city does a really good job year-round of spraying and keeping the numbers down,” Gonzalez said. “They make sure every ZIP code is sprayed. They have a route, and they follow it.”
A mosquito epidemic is something that can’t be avoided after major weather events, said Dr. Xavier Gonzales, professional assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
With more than 200 different types of mosquitoes and the ability for each insect to lay more than 200 eggs at a time, the explosion of biting bugs comes in waves. The first to begin annoying the human population are the least dangerous: salt marsh mosquitoes.
“These are the ones that tend to lay their eggs in areas that stay dry normally,” Gonzales said. “With hurricanes, those areas typically are now full of water. The extra water and the warm moisture promote these eggs to hatch.”
Salt marsh mosquitoes don’t carry dengue or Zika viruses, which makes them more of a pest than a health threat. But the larger, more dangerous bugs soon follow. Although the majority of them were blown away by storm winds, they and their predecessors find their way back to the homeland to reproduce and bite.
Different mosquitoes like different kinds of water. The salt marsh mosquitoes thrive in freshwater brought in by storm winds. The disease-carrying mosquitoes prefer to lay their eggs in dirty, murky water, which collects and sits in puddles and receptacles after the storm is long gone.
Dante Gonzalez, who spent hours cleaning the bugs off his vehicle after driving through a blizzard of bugs in Refugio, said when fighting mosquitoes, it’s hard to care what kind they are.
“To be honest, I don’t think I can say this one is a ‘good’ mosquito or a ‘bad’ mosquito,” he said. “The only good mosquito is a flat mosquito.”
Both Xavier Gonzales and Dante Gonzalez are promoting the Fight the Bite campaign encouraging people to pour out any standing water on their properties and spray large bodies of water that can’t be drained. Problem areas include bird feeders, puddles and tires used as planters. Residents should also keep their trash cans covered.
The second part is personal prevention — protecting yourself from bites.
“The main thing is knowing that, after a storm, this is going to happen,” Xavier Gonzales said. “We can’t avoid it, but we can prevent as much as possible by getting rid of standing water and using protective measures.”