Mosquito Control in the Wake of Zika What You Can Do to Avoid Them

Mosquito Control in the Wake of Zika
Eliminating standing water, improving drainage, weeding and proper mowing help curb the mosquito population. -James Gathany, CDC

If you're ever outdoors during the summertime, you know that those darn mosquitoes are unavoidable, whether you're sitting on your patio or picnicking in the park. The most common solution is either swatting the pesky creatures away from your face or carrying bug repellant. These days, however, there is major concern about mosquitoes because of the Zika virus that has affected parts of Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, according to the New York City Department of Health. The disease has also focused attention on the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil, after that country was identified as a high-risk area for the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Zika can be transmitted through bites from an infected Aedes species of mosquito, from a mother to child; through sexual contact between a man infected with the virus to his partners; and through blood transfusion. The symptoms associated with the virus include fever, red eyes, rash or joint pain. Most notably, Zika can cause serious birth defects for pregnant women. At the moment, there is no vaccine to prevent the disease.

Reported Cases

The CDC also says that there has not been a locally mosquito-borne Zika case reported in the Americas, but there have been cases of travelers who carried the disease home upon returning to the U.S. from affected areas, according to tests. They became infected when they were bitten by mosquitoes or through sexual contact. Of the 192 Zika cases in the tri-state area as of June 15, 174 Zika cases have been in New York, 17 in New Jersey, and 1 in Connecticut—all linked to travel. The New York City Health Department said it has been conducting aerial larvicide treatments over marsh and other non-residential areas in the boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to control mosquitoes since last May.

According to Ron Marrone, owner of J. D'Ambrozio Pest Management Services Inc. in Fairfield, New Jersey, there has been an uptick in calls from customers regarding mosquito control, perhaps due to Zika. “People are concerned about it,” says Marrone. “The weather really hasn't gotten hot yetit's fluctuating, it's a little cool out. So once the weather gets hot, it stays hot, and we're probably going to get more calls. I've noticed a difference in that people are calling and asking, 'What do you do? What could we do to prevent it?”

Beware of Standing Water

The problem with mosquitoes at home can be mostly attributed to standing water, says Marrone. “People have bird baths, and you'll get mosquitoes laying eggs in them. Some people have pools and they haven't opened them, and they have puddles of standing water on the pool covers. Or gutters that might be overflowing and blocked up. So those are breeding sites. When you do a treatment, you actually spray underneath the bushes, where mosquitoes hide, and around the light fixtures at night, because they're attracted to light. So if you spray a chemical around that, they land on it, and they die.”

From the perspective of Robert Rinaldo, vice president at D&J Property Management in Forest Hills, Queens, mosquito control is not really a problem at properties during the summertime, To him, anything that has to do with pest control is usually contained within the building and inside the particular apartments. “When we have our exterminators come over, they're treating for the usual roaches and mice that could potentially infest buildings,” he says. “To me, mosquitoes are usually an outside type of a threat. Those things come outside of our jurisdiction or anything like that of the building's. I know that there is a chance they can get within the homes when people leave the windows open. But it's never really something that we make a note necessarily to try to guard against them. Maybe we should with what's going on, but it's never really been an issue in the past.”

Rinaldo says he hasn't heard anything from residents about mosquito problems. “I hope that none of our people get ever affected by that. To me, unless it happened to them where they were bit within their home, I don't really see how it would necessarily be any type of owner's responsibility on anybody associated with the property. It's just one of those things where it can happen anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

Heed Expert Advice

To avoid attracting mosquitoes, Marrone advises homeowners not to leave their doors open. He further says: “Make sure the windows have a tight seal on them and that will prevent them from getting in. It's mostly the outside you're worried about. If you're sitting outside, obviously you need mosquito repellant to put on. You don't want to put the bug zappers close to your house because then you'll start attracting all kinds of insects to the house. You want to put them away from the house if you can do that.”

He also suggests raking out leaves and debris underneath bushes to get an airflow underneath.

“Anything that can cause you problems you want to eradicate that, and then we'll tell customers exactly what we're doing and how we're treating it. Now the key is, a lot of times you have to explain it's not about completely getting rid of the mosquitoes because a lot of the houses are close to one another. So it's mosquito reduction, it's not really elimination.”

On its website related to Zika, the CDC also offers the following tips to control mosquitoes at home:

For outside the home:

  • Empty and scrub, cover or discard items that hold water (such as tires, buckets, pools, toys and flowerpots) about once a week.

  • Kill mosquitoes where they reside using outdoor insect spray.

  • Fix cracks or gaps in a septic tank, as well as cover open vent or plumbing pipes.

  • For inside the home: 

    • Put in or fix window and door screens, and don't leave doors widely opened.

  • Turn on air conditioning.

  • Empty and scrub, cover or discard items that carry water (such as vases and flowerpots) about once a week.

  • Use indoor insect spray (Mosquitoes can reside in dark humid areas such as in closets and underneath the sink).

  • In Rinaldo’s view, if a building is maintained properly both inside and outside—such as people doing their part not to leave things out or unattended, and augmented by a good cleaning staff--problems like mosquitoes are less likely to happen. “I don't feel that on any of our properties we have an issue where things are left kind of unattended or things aren't routinely checked up on,” he says. “The fact we've got a regular maintenance come in [consisting] of an exterminator, our superintendent and [staff who] do what they do to keep the building looking nicethose are the things that are going to decrease the likelihood of those types of things being a problem.”

    With all the concern about Zika and other mosquito-related viruses, pest control businesses like Marrone's appear to be in demand. “It goes in cycles,” says Marrone. “A while back it was the ticks with the Lyme disease, and everybody was concerned about that. Then it was the bedbugs. Now we're at mosquitoes. You get rid of one problem and now you have another problem, so it's good for us.”

    David Chiu is associate editor of The Cooperator.

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