It's a good year to be a mosquito in the Toledo area, as giant mosquitoes have joined the growing population and officials worry about a possible increase in West Nile virus cases.
Already West Nile infections have been identified in mosquitoes and birds in two Ohio counties, although officials said that, based on past years, human cases aren't expected until later this month.
"I do expect it to be a very busy West Nile virus season later," said Lee Mitchell, biologist for the Toledo Area Sanitary District, adding the virus is most active from mid-July to mid-September.
"It's early in the mosquito season for West Nile virus, but things are starting to heat up now," he said.
The Ohio Department of Health reported two cases found as of last Friday, both in northern counties on Lake Erie, said spokesman Kristopher Weiss. A case was found in a mosquito sample from Lorain County, and a dead bird tested positive in Lake County.
A case also was confirmed in a mosquito sample last week in Oakland County, Michigan.
The vast majority of samples tested so far in Ohio - 902 mosquito pools and 742 dead birds - have been negative, Mr. Mitchell said.
This year, as with other years that see higher mosquito populations, giant mosquitoes dubbed "gallinippers" - short for "gallon nippers," an exaggerated reference to the amount of blood they take - also have been spotted, Mr. Mitchell said.
"These giant mosquitoes normally feed on very large animals, like your steers, your horses," he said, adding they are up to five times the size of mosquitoes normally seen in the area.
"We're kind of the next thing on the buffet."
While recent spraying has focused on the gallinippers and other more numerous species of pest mosquitoes, Mr. Mitchell said that over the next few weeks eliminating species carrying West Nile will become a priority.
West Nile detections increased in Lucas County last year - which also saw the smallest total number of mosquitoes caught in 28 years - with a record-setting 44 mosquito pools testing positive and 53 total detections, including five dead birds and four humans, all of whom survived, Mr. Mitchell said.
He added improved detection methods also could have influenced the increase.
Statewide, cases also jumped last year, from 12 in 2004 to 61 in 2005, according to the Ohio Department of Health. But such cases have declined since the virus first appeared in the area in 2002, when there were 441 human cases in Ohio.
Over 40 Ohioans have died as a result of West Nile virus since 2002, he said.
Mr. Weiss said the species of mosquito most effective at spreading West Nile virus, the Culex mosquito, needs standing water to reproduce, making the population weather-dependent.
He recommended that residents dispose of standing water, change the water in bird baths weekly, make sure gutters drain properly, and regularly chlorinate swimming pools.
Mr. Weiss said most people bitten by infected mosquitoes will not themselves become infected. However, anyone experiencing a high fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and loss of appetite within two days to two weeks of a mosquito bite should seek medical assistance.
Contact Eric Lund at: