PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's barrage of rain storms in recent months has created an unlikely pest infestation for the desert region: mosquitoes.
The storms — including one that began Wednesday — have established a breeding ground for mosquitoes that some longtime Phoenix residents say are as bad as they can ever remember.
Maricopa County environmental officials say they have received more than 10,000 mosquito-related complaints so far this year. County Environmental Services Department spokesman Johnny Dilone said that is nearly double the number of calls from the same period in 2013.
"We're working a lot of hours and spraying in more places," Dilone said. "We've been seeing a lot of mosquitoes, a majority of them are floodwater mosquitoes. Those are the ones that have been generating most of the calls."
The uptick has left residents scratching their heads — as well as arms, legs and other body parts — at having to deal with unexpected insect bites. Jennifer Weller, a Scottsdale sales executive, said she feels like every day brings three to five mosquito bites more.
"I'm a native of Arizona, and I can't remember getting eaten like this," she said. "So I'm wearing my OFF! right now instead of my perfume."
Other residents, like Leslie Meehan, are considering their own preventive measures. Meehan, of Maricopa, said nothing has worked to get them out of her yard and she is mulling a $149 mosquito trap.
"We're a smorgasbord for these heat-seeking missiles with wings," Meehan said. She compared it to a mauling — "I've got 32 bites on one arm."
Dilone says the county sets out about 640 traps each week. Most of them go to areas that the department monitors year-round as part of a more aggressive effort that began two years ago. But more will be deployed as officials come across new areas.
The county uses the trapped mosquitoes to test for West Nile Virus. Workers go to sites that test positive and conduct fogging measures.
More than 180 mosquito samples taken from traps this year have tested positive for the virus, Dilone said. The virus can cause severe illness in people and animals, although only about 20 percent of those infected will develop any symptoms. The flu-like symptoms include fever, headache, body aches and muscle weakness. More severe symptoms can include inflammation of the brain, which can lead to paralysis or death.
There have been 44 cases of people infected with the virus this year in Maricopa County. Six people have died.
Standing water created by rain and flooding can lead to a surge in mosquito breeding. Hundreds of thousands of them can emerge in as little as three days if mosquito larvae are left in a pool of water.
That's why homeowners need to inspect their property after it rains, Dilone said. Clearing debris from swimming pools, draining pet water dishes and buckets or other containers are ways to stop mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Many people still don't realize that mosquitoes can grow even in the desert, Dilone said.
"Most of us don't think we have a mosquito problem here or that there are many mosquitoes. Most of us don't know that even as little as the water that may be in a bottle cap would be enough for a mosquito to breed," Dilone said.
Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.
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