Mosquitoes and disease are new concerns as floodwaters drain

Floods threatened homes throughout the Czech Republic during much of March and April. Now the water is subsiding, but authorities are concerned about another possible threat - mosquitoes. The annoying little insects aren't just a nuisance; they can also spread serious diseases. The government took action against possible outbreak this week, before the mosquitoes go airborne.

As waterlines along the Elbe, or Labe as the Czechs call it, and other rivers throughout the Czech Republic drain back to safe levels, Dr. Frantisek Rettich's concern is only beginning. All the standing water left by the floods, especially in forest areas, makes prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Dr. Rettich is an authority on mosquito control at the National Institute of Public Health.

"Yes, well, I'm afraid that the situation in some parts of the Czech Republic is pretty serious. And those parts belong to the regions around South and Central Moravia parallel to the rivers Morava and Dyje."

That area was the hardest hit during the catastrophic floods of August 2002. The mosquito situation then became serious, and insecticides - which are less effective and can harm the environment - had to be sprayed.

Fear of mosquito-induced viral fevers and other diseases ran high until cold weather killed off the parasites. Dr. Rettich says he doesn't expect the threat to be as serious this time.

The Labe River
"I would say the situation in the Labe lowland region, or the areas parallel to Labe - there are mosquitoes, of course. But if we compare the situation with the big flood of 2002, it is absolutely not so catastrophic."

Radio Prague spoke with Dr. Rettich on Wednesday morning, just minutes before he left to lead a preventative effort against possible infestations. Fifteen tons of larvicide, called VectoBac, had just arrived from the United States. The chemical pellets will be spread throughout South Moravian floodplains and in some areas around Prague. The pellets cost the Czech Republic about $ 200,000, but the United States government kicked in some $30,000 to cover the costs of shipping the pellets to Prague so quickly.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jan Krc says that there was no time to wait.

"This is a very time sensitive need, in the sense that a couple weeks down the road it will be too late. The larvae would have already transformed into mosquitoes, so the larvacide would no longer be effective in fighting this problem."

VectoBac pellets are designed to poison mosquito food sources. The chemicals, according to Dr. Rettich and others, do not harm the environment since they only become toxic at the specific pH level found inside a larva's digestive system.

Still, the pellets won't wipe out all mosquitoes. Dr. Rettich expects the first wave to be airborne by May 1, but adds that most of their bites will be harmless.

"Of course mosquitoes transfer quite a lot of pathogens, but the threat of such a transmission in the Czech Republic is really marginal."

Czechs can use repellents to ward off mosquitoes, Dr. Rettich says. It's also a good idea to drain and scrub any outdoor tubs or fountains that hold standing water, so that they don't become backyard breeding grounds.

Meanwhile, Jan Krc wouldn't make a direct connection between the United States' recent flood assistance and the Czech Republic's aid in the wake of last year's Hurricane Katrina; rather he says the United States is only living up to the responsibility of being a good ally.

"The Czechs were very helpful to us at the time of Katrina, the hurricane last year in the southern part of the United States. They were very helpful - and still are. In fact just this week a team of restoration experts went to the United States to go to New Orleans to help restore a damaged historic cemetery. So this is an ongoing back-and-forth between friends, and since the Czech Republic is a good ally of the United States, we simply help each other out in times of need."