Countless flying bloodsuckers in Sampson County — and a large part of North Carolina, for that matter — have the state forking over millions of dollars to more than a quarter of its counties to help rid them of a massive nuisance.
The issue of mosquitoes was broached early and often during Monday night’s regular meeting of the Sampson County Board of Commissioners. A sizable contingent of Ivanhoe residents aired concerns in the wake of Hurricane Florence, touching on debris management and road repair (see story later this week) as well as mosquitoes. County officials, including Manager Ed Causey and Health Director Wanda Robinson, also addressed the issue of aerial pests.
Due to the increased populations of large, aggressive mosquitoes that have taken over areas flooded by Florence, Governor Roy Cooper last week ordered $4 million to fund mosquito control efforts in the 27 counties placed under a major disaster declaration, including Sampson and Duplin.
The breeds, which can grow three times larger than regular mosquitoes, are often referred to as “gallinippers” and are known to have a painful bite. They have descended on eastern North Carolina by the billions.
Of the $4 million pie for mosquito control efforts, Sampson is scheduled to receive a $95,660 slice.
Allocation for each of the 27 counties was reportedly based upon their share of the total acreage requiring mosquito treatment in the 27 counties. None of the counties were asked to share in the cost for these services up to their specific allocation amount. They have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate means to provide this service.
Since the flood waters began to recede, county officials said they have been inundated with calls from concerned citizens about the airborne insects.
Increased mosquito populations often follow a hurricane or any weather event that results in large-scale flooding. While most mosquitoes that emerge after flooding do not transmit human disease, they still pose a public health problem by discouraging people from going outside and hindering recovery efforts.
“We’ve gotten thousands of phone calls,” said Robinson, who said the funding received by Sampson can be used for mosquito abatement and mosquito-management activities, such as providing or contracting for mosquito spraying.
“In my eight years here, I don’t know if we’ve had more calls about anything other than these mosquitoes,” said Causey. “Anybody out there who is stressed and concerned, I hear those concerns, you have made an impression and we are working diligently. We have probably met more on mosquito issues in the last week than you can ever imagine, trying to figure out what we can do and exhausting the resources to find money to see what we can do.”
“We are working as diligently as we can to be as expeditious with whatever we do,” the county manager said. “It is a major problem and we do understand that.”
Robinson said local health officials are working with county administration to devise a plan by which funds will be spent and mosquito control conducted.
“We are in the process of developing a RFP (request for proposals), pending (board) approval of this, to see how far the money will go in regard to spraying,” said Finance officer David Clack.
The board granted unanimous approval to provide the funding for mosquito abatement.
Sampson officials submitted a request to the state last week for the mosquito abatement assistance. Many towns already have mosquito control programs in place. In the past week, Clinton, Roseboro and Garland each sprayed in their towns. However, the county — at 962 square miles — does not.
Robinson said funds disseminated to Sampson could be used to establish such a mosquito control program or enhance an existing one. Cooper said he directed the $4 million in state funds to “protect people who live in hard-hit areas.”
The hardest hit portions in Sampson were in the southern end. An Ivanhoe resident, Donna Sykes on Monday who lamented the mosquito problem.
“I worked outside and I literally feel like I gave a pint of blood this morning,” Sykes said. “It is horrible. You are competely fogged. Bug spray does not deter these things at all. We desperately need spray for mosquitoes. That is a health issue for us. That is the number two cause of death during a flood is diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes.”
Although rare, the most commonly reported mosquito-borne illnesses that can be acquired in North Carolina are LaCrosse encephalitis, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis. Nearly 70 percent of mosquito-borne infections reported in the state in 2017 were acquired during travel outside the continental U.S.
Robinson said no cases of West Nile have been recorded in Sampson.
State officials said that, while outdoors, people should remember to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants while outdoors, as well as mosquito repellent that contains DEET or an equivalent. More information on protective measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites is available online at ncdhhs.gov/hurricane-florence-mosquitoes.
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.