Australians are being warned to prepare for an onslaught of mosquitoes in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
An unseasonably high number of the bloodsucking insects have already been widely observed across the country, especially around Melbourne.
The spike in annoying mozzies is a growing public health concern, with flood-affected areas in Victoria forced to bring forward their mosquito management plans.
Pest control expert Bryce Peters, an entomologist at the University of Technology Sydney, said high activity levels this early in the year, and that far south, is “unusual”.
Warmer weather, king tides and heavy rainfall could also be contributing to a population boom, Mr Peters said.
“King tides or rainfall can cause mosquitos, depending on the species. Then warmer weather keeps them more active, so the warmer and more humid it is once they’ve emerged as adults, the more active they are,” he told The New Daily.
In Victoria, where the plague seems to have struck first, the state’s Department of Health has warned people to protect themselves from the insects, which can carry such diseases as Ross River, Barmah Forest and Murray Valley encephalitis.
The Victoria centres of Mildura, Swan Hill, Gannawarra, Campaspe, Moira, Wodonga and Shepparton will implement their surveillance and control programs a month early.
“We are starting our efforts to control mosquitoes early this year as heavy rain has provided perfect breeding conditions,” Victoria’s chief health officer Charles Guest said in a statement.
“There are simple and inexpensive steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
Bites from mosquitoes carrying Ross River or Barmah Forest viruses can cause joint inflammation, pain and rashes – while Murray Valley encephalitis can cause the brain to swell, leading to brain damage or death.
The Victorian department said, however, it’s rare for the insects to carry MVE, with the last human case in 1974.
In 2015, there were 301 reported cases of Ross River virus and 11 cases of Barmah Forest in Victoria.
How to protect yourself
Relying on citronella candles, which are backed by “no scientific evidence”, and going outside during sunrise and sunset when mozzies are most active are two common mistakes, Mr Peters said.
He recommended putting up insect screens around the house, covering up bare skin, avoiding peak activity times, using proper insect repellants, and avoiding lakes, rivers and other bodies of water where mosquitoes breed.
The Victoria Department of Health suggests wearing long and loose-fitting clothing, as mosquitoes can bite through tight outfits.
It also recommends to avoid any unnecessary water puddles and to take away potential mosquito breeding grounds.
Health departments in Queensland and South Australia have advised similar precautions.
Griffith University mosquito management expert Pat Dale told Nine News that using repellants with DEET or diethyltoluamide is much more effective compared to citronella candles.
– with Jackson Stiles