Forbes Shire Council combats mosquito invasion as insect numbers growth after flooding

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In a year of epidemics of biblical proportions, it is hardly surprising that flood-hit central West New South Wales is being bombarded by mosquitoes.

Important points:

  • Mosquitoes are thriving across central NSW after last month’s floods
  • Forbes Shire Council is trying to solve the problem by spraying it in public spaces
  • NSW Health is monitoring a flock of sentinel chickens to check for serious illnesses

After the Lachlan River overflowed in November, it still created plenty of stagnant water, which has created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The worst flooding occurred near the town of Forbes, and the numbers of insects have already increased, according to Matthew Teale of the Forbes Shire Council.

“It’s not uncommon for us to get mozzies out here, we live in a flooded area, there is Forbes in the heart of the Lachlan Valley,” said the acting director of planning and growth.

However, Mr Teale said the numbers had “tightened over the past few months” and health officials were on high alert for serious viruses.

NSW Health Pathology mosquito researcher Cameron Webb said the mosquitoes made the most of the conditions.

“Mosquitoes love warmth and water, and with all the rain we’ve had in western NSW and other parts of the country, it’s made for ideal conditions,” said Dr. Webb.

He said about 5,000 cases of Ross River fever, a “debilitating” disease, were recorded annually.

Chickens for defense

To monitor the situation, a flock of chickens was delivered to the Forbes Shire Council.

The sentinel chickens, which can be infected with Ross River fever or other diseases but are unlikely to get sick, will have blood tests this summer as part of NSW Health’s arbovirus surveillance program.

The Sentinel Chicken Flock helps health officials monitor for mosquito-borne viruses. (ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

Mr Teale said at Forbes, community workers had carried out a massive spraying campaign in public places like sports fields and parks to kill the insects and minimize the numbers.

The council said it was focused on making sure the insecticides and applications are targeted to avoid harming beneficial species like bees and natives.

However, it’s not a perfect solution.

“We’ll never knock out the entire mosquito population,” said Teale.

“It’s just never going to happen, it’s impractical.”

A man in a light blue shirt with a collar smiles as he stands in front of a wire enclosure. Matthew Teale says mosquitoes while annoying, are an integral part of summer. (ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

All animals are attacked

Meanwhile, other animals have not been so lucky as NSW Local Land Services staff keep an eye out for reports of disease in farm animals.

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A three-day illness can make cattle very sick and animals can be bitten, just like humans.

District veterinarian Jillian Kelly recommended that producers alleviate the itching and annoyance of the animals by making sure they had clear paths through pasture and some bare ground to sleep.

She recommended looking for products for cattle, sheep, dogs, and horses that might help relieve irritation.

“I think we will probably have an insect-infested summer all summer, it could be a few more months, it just really depends on the weather,” said Dr. Kelly.

A gas bottle stands next to a tree with a black plastic bucket hanging from it. The council uses carbon dioxide and light to lure mosquitoes into the trap. (ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

The mosquito expert Dr. Webb agreed.

“In the coming summer we will unfortunately learn to live with mosquitos.”

Back at Forbes, Mr. Teale found some humor among the swarms.

“[They’re a] Summer staple, certainly in the central west and Forbes.

“Cricket on TV, some fun in the pool, and killing a few mozzies, kind of a perfect recipe.”

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