Mosquitoes are eating us alive

They’re causing uncommon havoc this summer. Parkhill, Ont. is the epicentre of itch.

Eaten alive

Photographs by Cole Garside

There is a buzz in the air in Parkhill, Ont. It’s a picturesque town of about 1,700—that is, if you don’t count the mosquitoes. Nestled partway between Lake Huron and London in North Middlesex County, the town’s residents have spent the summer living through what reads like the plot to a B movie. In the time it takes to swat through clouds of mosquitoes on the path between the front door and the car door, it’s not uncommon for people to get 10 or 12 bites, North Middlesex Mayor Don Shipway says. “Kids can’t even go outside,” he told Maclean’s. “People are frustrated; it is going to be a health hazard if we don’t get it under control.”

The mosquitoes have always been bad in Parkhill, but this year is different. The numbers are staggering: less than 30 km away in Strathroy, a mosquito trap attracted 800 of the insects in four weeks. In the same time period in Parkhill, the same type of trap caught 51,000. “I’ve been involved in mosquito control for 10 years and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” says Middlesex-London Health Unit vector-borne disease coordinator Jeremy Hogeveen.

Parkhill isn’t the only community with residents spending their summer covering themselves in DEET. Mosquito populations in parts of the Prairies have exploded this summer after heavy spring rainfall and flooding. The Edmonton Eskimos moved their practice inside last week after general manager Eric Tillman likened the roofless Commonwealth Stadium to the jungle. And in Regina, councillors voted to add $200,000 to the fight against the bugs this summer, bringing the city’s total mosquito suppression budget to $500,000. The latest count puts the number of mosquitoes in Saskatchewan’s capital at more than double the historical average.

But in Parkhill, the mosquito problem is literally sucking the life out of the community. The town’s splash pad has been empty all season. Evening barbeques are out of the question. So far this summer, Parkhill resident Jenny Jutzi has taken her 11-year-old and 14-year-old sons out of town to the lake, on picnics, hiking and to visit their grandmother. “Anywhere else but Parkhill,” she says. “It’s just horrible here. I’m from Manitoba originally, so I know what mosquitoes are all about, living along Lake Winnipeg. But this is bad.”

Long-time resident Carrie Muma says her brother put his family’s Parkhill home up for sale last week after their 14-month-old son had a bad reaction to mosquito bites. “They want to leave town to get away from this problem,” says Muma, who has collected 23 pages of signatures on a petition to convince the local conservation authority to take action on the issue. “This cannot be affecting our livelihood like this.” Still, there isn’t an impending mass exodus as some media reports have indicated, Muma says. Instead, most townspeople are ready to face the mosquito scourge head on. “This issue has gone on for years. The rest of us are hoping to get to the bottom of it,” she says.

The mosquitoes have always been bad in Parkhill, but snow runoff and heavy spring rain this year created an ideal breeding ground. And many have blamed the roughly 62 acres of stagnant, wet areas downstream of the town dam as the primary source of the problem. The local conservation authority, health unit and municipality have been in talks with residents about the situation, with short-term solutions such as spraying to kill adult mosquitoes, and long-term solutions such as draining still water on the table for discussion.

But do the mosquitoes in Parkhill pose an actual health threat to the community? What has many residents worried is that among the species of mosquitoes found in the town exist the kind capable of transmitting West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, says Middlesex-London’s medical officer of health Dr. Graham Pollett. So far, there’s no evidence of West Nile in the community, but a viable risk exists. “We have a potential public health issue,” Pollett says. There hasn’t been any positive West Nile activity in Parkhill since 2005, according to the health unit’s Hogeveen. It’s cold comfort for Parkhill townspeople. “You can take that on the plus side,” Hogeveen says, “but you’re still getting eaten alive.”




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Mosquitoes are eating us alive

  1. They should try using mosquito coils all day long in their yards ( avaialbale at dollar stores, and on sale at Canadian tire), and put rosemary & garlic plants in patio planters & hanging baskets around their homes, and spraying a mixture of  crushed garlic, vegetable oil and warm water with 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid per litre.  And  burn anything that makes a lot of smoke in the fire pit if you have one.
    Too bad the town wouldn’t spring for enough larvicide for residents to put around their properties where  there are standing pools of water, and pass a bylaw that people who build up their properties so that runoff accumulates in their neighbours’ yards, should have to pay for some sort of drainage system.

    • The town has been using larvicide for years.  It hasn’t been very effective.  If you live in this area, you will realize that people have tried everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — to get rid of these pests.  When the problem becomes this enormous, home remedies and mosquito coils are ineffective solutions.

      • If the town isn’t going to get rid of the “stagnant wet area”, they should excavate it and turn it into a real pond and stock it with fish which would eat all the mosquito larvae.   What you have to do is get rid of low lying areas where water pools.  Apparently, mosquitoes only reside in a close proximity to where they hatch so those mosquitoes in your yard, hatched in your yard or your neighbors yard or outside your fences.  Empty the water that accumulates in your dog dishes; birdbaths; etc. every other day.  Fill in dips in your lawn.  If you have an open rainbarrel, cover it.

  2. Noticing all the stories around mosquitos and spraying and applying deet products for protection, which I have no issue with by the way, I am shaking my head at all the nobler than though local politicians that think they are doing the planet a favour by banning the use of far less toxic things like herbicides to kill dandelions and such.  What a bunch of hypocrites.  Herbicides that I will say are legally approved by our federal authorities.  And that are biologially no issue as they break down very very quickly into naturally found compounds in the soil anyway.  So deet that!

  3. It’s good to know that not all of the bloodsuckers are in Ottawa. :)

  4. wow. 10-12 bites a night! Not fun. I read somewhere that depending on what yo eat you can deter mosquitos? I think it was honey and cellulose rich foods.

  5. Hey, I’m a boater on Lake Ontario and also have a deck on our house about a kilometre from the lake. I can’t have supper on the deck because of the mosquitoes (usually it is the meat eating hornets that bug us) but the boat has none, even overnight. We’ve spent the nigght in Port Dalhousie and Port Credit too! No mosquitoes! It must just be those land based ones. Time was you’d have to be in the cabin of the boat with the nets up by 9:30, now we are bug free all night. 

    What’s happening?

  6. Thanks,I’ve read this article. I feel scare. :(
    phim hay nhat

  7. Bats. Bring in bats.
    Lots and lots of bats.

  8. Obviously
    nobody fancies being eaten alive, but the prospect of not only being eaten
    alive but then also facing further repercussions – such as itchiness,
    infection, and possibility of exposure to a viral vector – makes the situation
    in Parkhill, Ontario even more unbearable. Unfortunately (at least according to
    many Climate Change Scientists), this trend will continue as the Earth’s
    temperature warms and the mosquito’s habitable zone increases. According to a
    2001 paper co-authored by Barry Alto, a doctoral student at the University of
    Florida, mosquitoes reproduce faster at higher temperatures. An increase in
    several degrees of temperature around the Earth will open up new habitats for
    mosquitoes as well as increase the reproductive rate of current mosquito
    hotspots (this might explain the Parkhill community’s mosquito population
    issue). Yet others, such as James Taylor (who is a “senior fellow for
    environment policy at the Heartland Institute” and an outspoken blogger
    speaking against many Climate Change Scientists) deny the possibility that climate
    change is happening and that there will be an influx of mosquitoes. For instance,
    James Taylor quotes statistics such as:

    “Global warming is often predicted to cause a
    devastating increase in the range and frequency of malaria, but somebody forgot
    to tell the malarial mosquitoes. The World Health Organization reports global
    malaria deaths have declined by nearly 40% during the past decade, even as the
    earth experienced its “hottest decade on record.”

    This
    statistic talking about a decrease in global malaria deaths has nothing to do
    with the prevalence (or lack thereof) of malaria itself. The fact that less
    people are dying in the past decade can merely mean that medical advances have
    increased our ability to treat malaria. It is not indicative of the total
    number of cases of malaria (each which will have a chance of being fatal), or
    its spread.

     

    Many
    countries are built in locations that are above the mosquito line – altitude
    where mosquitoes cannot survive above. However, not only does the warming of
    the planet increase the rate of reproduction, but the mosquito line will move
    upwards. This means that many cities that used to be mosquito free might now be
    habitable to these pests. As mosquitoes are also a well-known vector for
    infectious pathogens such as malaria or the West Nile Virus, this is
    troublesome for local officials who might have never been faced with a sudden
    influx of patients affected by infectious pathogens. As a vector, the mosquito
    carries the pathogen from one host to another – basically spreading the
    disease. The introduction of mosquitoes into areas that used to be mosquito
    free also means that the spread of disease will be more easily propagated by
    the presence of a vector that is able to infect hosts by transferring the
    infection from another host. Overall, if the Earth does face Global Warming,
    and this in turn produces more mosquitoes, we could be in trouble.

     

    The
    thing that I hate about mosquitoes is not that they steal my blood, or that
    they are buzzing and annoying, but that they leave a big itchy reminder on your
    skin (not to mention that there is a possibility that I have been exposed to a
    dangerous pathogen). I do not mind the donation of my blood or the excess
    buzzing but I do mind risks to my health. People from Cigdem Iltan`s article
    suggest the use of DEET bug spray, homemade mosquito coils, and getting rid of
    the stagnant wet area near the community. Other possibilities include wearing lighter
    coloured clothing (mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing), or not going
    outside right after showering (the clean shampoo smell is irresistible to
    mosquitoes). I am sure that at least some of these advice might have already
    been attempted, but 10-12 mosquito bites before one can get into a car is quite
    ridiculous and every method possible should be tried). It seems that residents
    of Parkhill are responding to the mosquito infestation by staying indoors,
    leaving on trips, or ultimately leaving the town. However, this is obviously
    not a feasible long-term situation, since (assuming Global Warming is not a
    myth) people cannot just keep moving to get away from the mosquitoes. The consensus
    seems to be that something needs to be done. It is just that no one is sure
    what should be done – drainage of stagnant waters, staying indoors, etc. or if
    all of the solutions should be interweaved into a big plan. It is scary
    thinking that many other communities might soon face the same situation if the
    Earth continues to warm. Not only is it a great irritant, but we must act now
    and enact counter-measures else we might all face the risk of being eaten
    alive.

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