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Drought Conditions in Alberta May Not Deter Mosquito Populations and West Nile Virus Risks

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John Swann, a former entomology professor at the University of Calgary and currently a consultant for ABI Environmental Services, warns that despite drought conditions, a new breed of mosquito in Edmonton and Calgary could increase the risk of West Nile virus earlier in the year. Unlike typical mosquitoes that thrive in moist environments, the Culex pipiens, also known as the northern or common house mosquito, is well-adapted to warm, dry conditions, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in urban areas.

“These mosquitoes are starting to appear as early as May, which is much sooner than the native species we typically see in late June or July,” Swann explained. “They develop quickly from egg to adult within a week and are active biters.”

Culex pipiens is also a known carrier of the West Nile virus, which poses a significant health risk. Swann highlighted that while some people may experience mild cold-like symptoms, others can suffer severe neurological effects, and in extreme cases, it can be fatal.

As the City of Calgary prepares to launch its mosquito monitoring program in the coming weeks, spokesperson Rachelle Nuytten emphasized the importance of early preventative measures to reduce mosquito populations in local areas. She advised residents to eliminate shallow stagnant water around their properties, such as in bird baths and flower pots, which are potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Alberta Health has indicated that about one in five people infected with West Nile virus experience serious health consequences, particularly those over 50 years old. Swann personally knows individuals who have suffered debilitating effects from the virus, underscoring the importance of vigilance and prevention.

As summer approaches, both experts and city officials are urging the public to take proactive steps to minimize mosquito breeding sites and protect themselves from potential bites.

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