PREVENTION IS THE BEST CURE
To prevent mosquito growth, follow the Five T's:
* Toss Out -- (piles of grass clippings)
* Turn Over -- (anything that will hold water)
* Tarp -- (get rid of them, but make sure it's tight if you have to have one)
* Treat -- (if you have an infestation)
* Tip -- (tip out water in bird baths, outdoor toys)
Source: Brad Ledford, "Mosquito Squad of Chattanooga" owner
Southeast Tennessee residents should get ready for a blood-curdling situation: Record-setting rainfall this summer has created a haven for mosquitoes to breed. Chattanooga has seen more than 7 inches of rainfall in July so far, and the blood-sucking pests are out in full force.
"In the past week and a half, it's been nuts," said Brad Ledford, Mosquito Squad of Chattanooga owner. "I'm getting eaten up during the day just doing estimates with new customers."
Worst yet, mosquitoes are testing positive for West Nile Virus far earlier than last year.
This summer, 75 mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile in Shelby County, and the Nashville Metro Health Department is reporting 21 positive samples since May 1.
The number of human West Nile cases had seen a steady decline since the Tennessee Department of Health started reporting it in 2002 with 56 human cases and six deaths.
Only one person -- a 22-year old in Putnam County -- has been diagnosed with West Nile in Tennessee so far this year.
No infections have yet been confirmed in horses or birds.
The combination of stagnant water and 'skeeters could be a fertile situation for trouble, complicated by health department budget cuts in 2011.
Hamilton County's mosquito control program was slashed during calmer times in June of that year.
Only 12 Tennesseans were infected with West Nile from 2009 to 2011.
But 51 residents have been infected with the virus in the two years since.
Hamilton County was one of only 10 Tennessee counties to fund mosquito control programs up until the 2011 cuts. The decision to cut the program, which typically inspected 300 areas of standing water, came after milder mosquito seasons, as well as tightening EPA regulation demanding more paperwork and funding.
Tiger by the tail
Ledford says anotherinsect aggressor, the "Asian Tiger" mosquito, is bringing its own set of miseries to Chattanooga.
The Asian Tiger does not necessarily bear a threatening virus like West Nile, but is by no means a savory summer visitor.
"They are annoying and make welts up on you," Ledford said. "I've heard of a lot of people saying their kids are having a bad allergic reaction to them."
Asian Tigers are about a quarter-inch long and can be identified by a black-and-white stripe pattern. They are are known for "persistent" biting, according to a fact sheet.
Don't get bit
Prevention, not treatment, is the more effective way to deal with mosquitoes and combat viruses they may potentially carry.
"You definitely have to protect yourself by wearing long sleeves and light colors," Ledford said. "Look on the label of whatever bug repellent you're using. The CDC recommends around 30 percent DEET or more."
Prevention is perhaps easiest for people who prefer to stay indoors, though.
"If you're really bothered by mosquitoes and don't like them, stay inside from dusk till dawn," Ledford said.
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@times freepress.com or 423-757-6592.