What Do You Know About Austin’s Mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes may only be thought of as annoying little pests, but they are also responsible for transmitting many severe diseases including malaria, dengue, Zika, West Nile, and others. They are the vectors for spreading invisible germs and causing outbreaks. This makes them a major factor to be worried about when spending summers in Austin, Texas!
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report analyzing disease cases from mosquitoes during 2004-2016, and Texas fell in the top 20% of the states with cases between 1,678 to 9,254. Overall, the disease cases by mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks tripled during these 13 years in all of the USA. 
Austin’s Mosquitoes – A Growing Nuisance
Many people often fall prey to this little insect during the spring season in Austin and usually find a bug spray to be enough for their defense. However, the problem of mosquitoes is more of a norm in Austin and all of Texas owing to many factors like climate, breeding areas, humidity levels, etc. Austin has been one of the major cities to have the worst mosquitoes. National pest companies like Orkin and Terminix rank Austin among the top 50 mosquito-sensitive cities in the USA.
Why? Let’s have a look!
- Weather Conditions and Breeding Season
Running along the Colorado River, this fast-growing city is the southernmost state capital in the contiguous United States. Austin’s geography offers a unique mix of the dry deserts of Southwest America and the lush-green, humid regions of Southeast America. This imparts Austin with the characteristics of both extremes.
Austin is characterized by highly variable humidity. It shifts significantly with the airflow and direction, resulting in lengthy warm, dry, low-humidity days, occasionally interrupted by very warm and humid days and vice versa.
Humidity and rains are the major factors for mosquito development. They provide ample stagnant water bodies and marshy areas for mosquitoes to breed and swamp the cities. The spring season preceding the summers in Austin, Texas, determines whether the mosquitoes will be a nuisance that summer or not because it varies from year to year depending on the weather conditions.
The breeding season usually extends from July to September.
- Global Warming and Mosquitoes Swarming Austin
Global warming is of growing concern across the globe. According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2019 , Austin, with four other Texas cities, was among the top 10 cities in the US that reached temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Global warming and Austin’s increasing population can contribute to the high carbon footprint of Austin that can lead to increased flooding, droughts, and high temperatures. This would mean increased risks to health and property.
Under such circumstances, the hot and humid weather may also prevail longer, providing more breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other infectious pests.
Mosquitoes- the Vectors of Diseases
Being vectors of diseases, swarming mosquitoes pose significant risks to the population of Austin, Texas. Did you know that the mosquitoes that you see at each time of the day vary in their breed? And that mosquitoes caused the outbreaks of Chikungunya and Zika viruses in the past years? Since commerce and trade move mosquitoes and viruses worldwide, this poses a risk to other people trading in and out of the state.
A list of mosquito-borne diseases spread in humans or animals in Texas has been listed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. 
- Chikungunya: The virus is spread by mosquitoes that are most active during daylight hours but can also be active at night.
- Dengue: The four dengue viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes that are most active during the day but can also be active at night. These are the same mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika and chikungunya viruses.
- Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE): Horses, other equines, and some birds can develop a severe illness that can be fatal. EEE is very rare in humans.
- Malaria: Sometimes fatal, malaria is diagnosed in about 1,700 cases in the United States each year.
- St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE): The virus is spread by mosquitoes most active at night, from dusk to dawn. The symptoms are abrupt.
- West Nile Virus (WNV): This virus is spread to people, horses, birds, and some other animals through the bite of an infected mosquito that is most active at night, from dusk to dawn.
- Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE): This is a viral illness transmitted to people and horses by mosquitoes that are most active at night, from dusk to dawn.
- Zika: The mosquitoes that transmit the Zika virus are most active during the day but can also be active at night. These are the same mosquitoes that can transmit the dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Mosquito Repellants & Pesticides – What Are the Risks Attached?
Pesticides used for mosquito control are the chemicals used to impact insects’ immune, reproductive, or nervous systems. They are extremely useful while combating insects like mosquitoes, but there are certain impacts on health that may lead to acute and chronic problems. Acute health effects appear shortly after exposure to these pesticides. They can include skin and eye irritations, headaches, dizziness and nausea, weakness, difficulty breathing, mental confusion and disorientation, seizures, coma, and death. Chronic health effects may not be apparent until months or years after exposure. Such health aliments include nervous, reproductive, and immune system disorders and cancer.
Moreover, the mosquito repellents generally used by us are laden with chemicals that can be toxic for our health.
Most commercial Mosquito Repellents are prepared using non-biodegradable, synthetic chemicals like N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and allethrin, which may lead to environment and, hence, unacceptable health risks in the case of their higher exposure. 
It must be noted that mosquito repellants are a great way to prevent mosquito-host interactions by creating a vapor barrier on the skin of the host. Hence, they play an important role in reducing mosquito-borne diseases when used correctly and consistently. However, natural, plant-based, or safer synthetic mosquito repellents are needed to ensure the health and safety concerns of the masses using them.
Natural Alternatives to Repel Mosquitoes
Nature is abundant in resources for every critical situation, like mosquitoes swarming in your area. Using the following natural ingredients as mosquito repellants can save you from toxic synthetic mosquito repellants as well as the mosquitoes attacking you.
- Camphor: Light it for 30 minutes, and its odor will drive mosquitoes away.
- Garlic: Crushing and boiling a few garlic cloves and spraying the solution around the house will kill the mosquitoes. Do not worry about the smell. It will go away shortly too.
- Coffee Grounds: Sprinkle coffee grounds on stagnant water around your house. It will kill the mosquito eggs.
- Lavender and Tea Tree Oils: The smell of lavender and tea tree oil repels mosquitoes from the house as well as your body. Use drops of tea tree oil with water in a spray bottle. Lavender drops should also be combined with water or oil prior to spraying on your skin or surfaces.
- Mint and Peppermint: Use mint pots and peppermint plants in your garden to naturally protect yourself against mosquitoes.
- Beer and alcohol also keep mosquitoes away—put glasses of beer or alcohol here and there in your environment.
- Pinion Wood: A commonly used wood to burn outdoors, pinion wood kills mosquitoes effectively.
- Basil: Planting basil in your backyard or entryway can kill mosquito larvae and repel them too. A study showed that potted plants provided nearly 40% protection against malaria mosquitoes and 100% protection against yellow fever mosquitoes.
- Lemongrass essential oil can help repel mosquitoes effectively.
- Neem: Burning neem leaves provided 76% protection against mosquitoes for 2 hours, according to a study.
- Eucalyptus: Heated eucalyptus oil has also been found highly effective against mosquitoes in the same study.
- Catnip: A plant from the mint family, catnip is also highly effective in repelling mosquitoes. It can be used in the form of essential oils.
- Thyme: The compounds of thyme oil have been highly effective in repelling mosquitoes naturally.
Please note that some people’s skin reacts to the use of essential oils. Hence, it is important to test these oils on a small patch on your skin before using them on the full body, hands, and feet.
Recipe for Homemade Mosquito Repellent
With simple DIY methods, you can create your very own homemade, pure and organic, plant-based mosquito repellents according to your skin type and minimize your exposure to chemical-laden mosquito repellants. Essential oils are easily available at aromatherapy stores or beauty stores. You can use the following method with various essential oils like tea tree oil, combinations of lavender and vanilla, and lemongrass and rosemary oils.
- 10 ml – Lemon eucalyptus oil
- 90 ml – Base oil such as olive oil or coconut oil
- Boiled water (as required)
- Vodka (as required)
- Small spray bottle (like one for rosewater or toner)
- Fill half the bottle with boiled water and 1/4th with vodka or alcohol.
- Add 10 ml of lemon eucalyptus oil to 90 ml of a carrier or base oil (olive oil or coconut oil).
- Mix it and use it on your body as a mosquito repellant.
- Shake it well before each use.
- Do not use this spray on your face.
What Has Austin’s Administration Been Doing?
Austin Public Health (APH) staff sets up mosquito traps every year in different neighborhoods around the city and sends the specimens to the state lab for testing. This surveillance continues from May through November. It is important to collect vital data to map out changing mosquito patterns across the city’s ZIP codes all season long.
Surveillance is indeed a great tool to keep check of the mosquitoes’ situation. But growing climatic concerns and population raise the bar of what should be done by the authorities to curtail this menace. A CDC report suggests that:
More than 80% of vector control organizations in the USA need improvement in 1 or more of 5 core competencies, such as testing for pesticide resistance. 
This proves that more steps need to be taken to control this situation.
What the local authorities have been doing is a macro project. But on an individual level, we can help ourselves to curtail the swarming mosquitoes in Austin. A simple DIY mosquito repellant can greatly help us reduce the use of chemical-laden mosquito repellants.
There is a need for safer, non-toxic alternatives and non-hazardous ways to control mosquitoes. For that matter, authorities, as well as individuals like you and me, need to come forward and support healthy alternatives to mosquito control.
. Illnesses on the rise. From mosquito, tick, and flea bites. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/vector-borne/index.htm . Killer Heat in the United States: The Future of Dangerously Hot Days. Accessed from: https://ucsusa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=e4e9082a1ec343c794d27f3e12dd006d . Lean About Climate Change. Accessed from: https://austintexas.gov/page/learn-about-climate-change#:~:text=What%20does%20Austin’s%20carbon%20footprint,tons%20of%20carbon%20dioxide%2Dequivalent . Mosquito-borne diseases. Accessed from: https://www.dshs.texas.gov/texasmosquitoes/diseases/ . The Health Effects of Pesticides Used for Mosquito Control. Accessed from: https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/mosquito/documents/citizensHealthEffectsMosqP.pdf . Commercial Mosquito Repellents and Their Safety Concerns. Accessed from: https://www.intechopen.com/books/malaria/commercial-mosquito-repellents-and-their-safety-concerns . Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Accessed from: https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11 . Illnesses on the rise. From mosquito, tick, and flea bites. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/vector-borne/index.html