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N.C. Public Health Officials Warn of Pests in Irene's Wake

For release: Immediate    August 31, 2011
Contact: Julie Henry, DHHS Public Affairs Office, 919-707-5053

RALEIGH – During the cleanup after past hurricanes, one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits was stings and bites. Mosquitoes, stinging caterpillars, snakes, fire ants, wasps and hornets could cause problems as residents begin the business of cleaning up after Hurricane Irene.

The most common problem after heavy rains is an increase in mosquitoes because of an abundance of breeding areas, increasing their numbers and the possibility of disease carried by the insects.

“Water collected in the smallest containers or puddles provide places for mosquitoes to lay eggs and for the eggs to grow into adults,” Terry Pierce, chief of the Environmental Health Section of the Division of Public Health, said. “Residents should clean out birdbaths, clean gutters and empty water from flowerpots, pet dishes, old tires, buckets and anything else holding water. The easiest way to prevent mosquito bites is to use a repellant containing DEET, which is effective against both mosquitoes and ticks.”

Bees, wasps and hornets may have had their nests disturbed by Irene’s wind and rain. These insects can become very aggressive in this situation. Before beginning clean-up activities, survey the site to see if bees, wasps or hornets are hovering in the area. If they are, you should use a commercially available pesticide labeled for control of these insects to get rid of them before entering.

Insect repellants do not work on stinging insects. If prescribed by your physician, for insect allergies make sure you have epinephrine in your emergency kit to help prevent anaphylactic shock if you are stung.

Stinging caterpillars normally live in the canopies of trees and don’t come into contact with humans. However, trees toppled by Irene’s winds knocked tree limbs on the ground and stinging insects into areas frequented by people. Caterpillar stings are very painful. They can be avoided by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and gloves when picking up and carrying limbs and leaves.

The rain may have also disturbed snake and fire ant habitat, so watch for these creatures as well and take precautions to avoid painful bites and stings. Fire ant colonies will form a ball when flooded and float until they hit a solid object, which can mean people. If you must wade in water, watch out for fire ants floating on debris or in floating ‘balls’ from disturbed ant nests. If bitten or stung, seek appropriate medical care. Do not put ice on snakebites; however, ice may be used on fire ant stings.

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