KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The heat and humidity are bringing in a larger than normal number of mosquitoes this season in East Tennessee.
The Knox County Health Department is working to combat mosquito-borne diseases in the area, with workers laying traps and testing what viruses mosquitoes in the region carry.
The University of Tennessee is conducting research of its own into the leading mosquito-borne disease in East Tennessee, a virus called La Crosse.
“When you have more mosquitoes, those mosquitoes could potentially become infected from different viruses, so with this rainy weather that we’ve had, we’re likely to have an increase number of positive cases of La Crosse mosquitoes,” Becky Trout Fryxell, professor of entomology and plant pathology, said.
The La Crosse virus remains the leading mosquito-borne disease in East Tennessee, and it’s most commonly known to infect children ages 15 and younger.
“It’s really concerning because not only does it get the kids sick and give them potential fever and other general sicknesses, but it can also cause encephalitis which is swelling of the brain. It can cause brain damage or even death in severe cases,” student researcher Patrick Wise said.
Researchers at UT are working alongside the Knox County Health Department to track mosquitoes in the region and identify any viruses they might carry, testing for La Crosse but also viruses like West Nile and Zika.
According to health experts, three different mosquitoes carry La Crosse in East Tennessee. The virus took the life of a 6-year-old boy from Union County in 2012.
“This area in East Tennessee, Western North Carolina in particular, is one of the hot spots for La Crosse virus, found in multiple areas and we happen to be where the cases are consistently identified and confirmed,” Fryxell said.
With more mosquitoes, combined with a warm environment and frequent rainfall, researchers are urging people to be vigilant, advising people to use bug repellent and eliminate any standing water.
“Hopefully not, but we likely will have a few cases of La Crosse Virus.” Fryxell said.