The mosquito population here has become ‘severe’, Topekans has warned

Is Topeka abuzz with mosquitoes?

The answer is – depends on who you ask.

On the “yes” side, a new forecasting tool created thanks to a partnership between Google and Off!, insect repellent.

This tool indicates that the city’s predicted population of this bloodsucking insect on Monday was at its highest possible “severe” level and is expected to remain so through Thursday.

Off!Cast predicts mosquito populations up to seven days in advance, said Madison Wanless, consumer intern at Chicago-based Zeno Group.

Topeka’s Off!Cast Mosquito Forecast predicted that the capital for the second week in a row last week would see a “very high” mosquito population, with “very high” being the second highest of Off!Cast’s five severity levels.

The forecast then deteriorated, with Topeka’s predicted rating for Monday being identified as “severe” on the Off!Cast website. This site predicts that Topeka’s rating will remain at this level until it is lowered to “very high” on Friday.

On the “no” side, testing is being done by the Shawnee County Health Department, which says the mosquito population is below average this year.

“We saw a slight increase in mosquito numbers last week, but overall for the year our mosquito population has been below average,” said Craig Barnes, Outreach Division Manager and community health planning for this department.

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Shawnee County Health Department tracks mosquito populations

Topeka's mosquito population is at its highest possible, severe level, according to a forecasting tool created by Google and Off!, an insect repellent brand.

Since 2017, the county health department has partnered with Sedgwick and Reno counties and the Kansas Department of Health and Education to conduct mosquito surveillance annually.

“We deploy five traps weekly throughout Shawnee County that track total mosquito counts and the potential presence of West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease,” Barnes said.

These traps are located in various parts of the county. Samples are sent to KDHE for analysis including virus detection tests.

So far this year, no traps have identified the presence of West Nile virus, Barnes said.

The county posts information online about its mosquito monitoring program, he said.

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How does the Mosquito Prediction Tool work?

Off!Cast Mosquito Forecast is powered by Google Cloud geospatial and data analytics technologies.

It is the world’s first public technology platform that predicts and shares information about mosquito abundance, according to a press release published by Google in May.

“By applying science-informed data from mosquito biology, Off!Cast accurately predicts mosquito behavior and mosquito populations in specific geographic areas,” the statement said.

The Off!Cast model combines three inputs, according to its website.

These include knowledge of a mosquito’s life cycle, detailed climate data entries, and mosquito population counts from over 5,000 locations provided by VectorBase, a U.S. Department Resource Center website of Health and Social Services.

“To determine accuracy, our team spent six years checking the model results against living populations, generating 33 million data points,” explains the Off!Cast website. “The results confirm that the model predictions match the reality on the ground.”

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What are the severity levels of Off!Cast for the mosquito population?

The Shawnee County Health Department says the local mosquito population is below average this year despite a new tracking tool that indicates the numbers are high.

The Off!Cast website uses five severity levels, for which it provides the following descriptions:

  • Low/Green which means people can go out and enjoy the outdoors safely.
  • Medium/Yellow, meaning people don’t have to worry yet, but conditions are right for some mosquitoes to come out.
  • High/Orange meaning the mosquitoes are out and people will want to protect themselves.
  • Very High/Red meaning ideal conditions for mosquitoes have been in place for several days, likely resulting in increased mosquito activity.
  • And Severe/Dark Red meaning conditions have been perfect for at least 14 days for mosquitoes to become active and breeding, meaning there are likely to be more.

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How does Off!Cast account for humidity for mosquitoes?

This week’s “severe” mosquito population forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Topeka comes at a time when the Topekans have recently faced high temperatures and humidity.

Mercury readings and humidity are the primary factors used to create mosquito forecasts, although “it’s a bit more complicated than that,” the Off!Cast website says.

“For example, there must be enough consecutive days of warmer temperatures for mosquitoes to populate and become active,” he said. “There are also ‘too hot’ days when mosquitoes tend to lie low, and ‘too cold’ days when mosquitoes are less active.”

Off!Cast automatically adjusts its algorithm for those days, its website said.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.