Health officers warn of disease carrying insects, rodents 
Health officers warn of disease carrying insects, rodents

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) -- That bad boy, El Nino, has another unpleasant surprise for Texans this year: lots of disease-carrying insects and rodents.  Extra rain from the Pacific weather phenomenon that has pounded California also translates into prime breeding ground in Texas for insects such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes along with more vegetation where rodents forage.

``We obviously can't predict what's going to happen, but because of the wet weather, we are very much more likely to see more flea and tick diseases and it certainly stands to reason that the rodent population will increase,'' Julie Rawlins, a Texas Department of Health epidemiologist, told the Beaumont Enterprise.

Of particular concern to health experts is potential spread of more maladies -- including hantavirus, encephalitis and Lyme disease -- that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

``Most of (these kind of insects) breed in water,'' Ms. Rawlins said Tuesday. ``Ticks love high humidity. Fleas love water and humidity. Obviously with more rain, it's conducive to reproduction.''

Although no reports of any hantavirus or mosquito-born encephalitis have surfaced so far this year, Ms. Rawlins noted that those kinds of epidemics usually don't occur until later on in the summer.

Entomologists expect the mosquito population to flourish in late summer.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report shows that there's been too much rain across much of the country.

Beginning last year, almost every part of Texas has received precipitation at or above average levels.

The wet weather is conducive for mosquitoes to breed, but will delay the time eggs hatch since the larvae need dry weather, said Jim Olson, a Texas A&M University researcher and leading expert on mosquitoes.

Fleas, which pose a threat now, are a bit easier to guard against than mosquitoes, say some experts.  New developments in products that eradicate fleas have had a significant impact on flea populations, veterinarian Tom Nelson said.

``We are starting to see some big changes as new products hit the market,'' said Nelson. ``There has been a tremendous effect on the flea populations these past couple of years.''

Released: 04/08/98 01:19 AM

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