Take the bite out of mosquito problems now

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2016

As of June 8, the Centers for Disease Control had reported 691 cases of Zika virus across the U.S., an increase of nearly 12 percent over the June 1 report.

Once again, New York and Florida led the nation with 164 and 132 cases, respectively. North Carolina was No. 14, remaining unchanged with 11 cases (previously reported incorrectly as 12 cases).

What’s important to realize is that all of these cases, here and nationally, were travel-related (none were locally transmitted). This isn’t meant to downplay the significant impact that this disease has on infected individuals and their families, but rather to make people understand that controlling mosquitoes now will not prevent you from getting Zika virus later because the virus isn’t here.  However, controlling mosquitoes now does help reduce the nuisance biting and the risk of other resident diseases such as West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis and LaCrosse encephalitis which show up in low numbers in our state nearly every year.

In order for you to reduce the populations of mosquitoes in your area, you need to eliminate breeding sites. Any containers that have filled with water should be thrown out or at least emptied. Bird baths need to be flushed out, too. The birds will appreciate the fresh water anyway.

It is also important for you to clean out debris-clogged gutters. Surveys in North Carolina have found that saucers under potted plants and tarps over wood piles, boats etc., are particularly hard to eliminate as sources of mosquito production because they get overlooked.

Keep your potted plants watered but don’t leave standing water in the saucer beneath the plant. Storm sewers and drainage ditches can become clogged with silt, vegetation and trash. Remove the debris and/or report drainage problems to the appropriate state or municipal agency.

There are many products available if you decide to treat your property to kill adult mosquitoes. Please keep in mind that the chemical doesn’t always land where you direct your spray, particularly with windy conditions. Read the pesticide label before you spray.

Never treat where children or pets are found and keep them away from treated areas until the chemical has dried on surfaces or longer if the product label specifies a time.

Many products contain pyrethroid insecticides — look at the list of active ingredients on the front panel of the product label. Many of these products cannot be applied to edible plants. So, it is important to be very careful when spraying near vegetable or herb gardens or fruiting trees.

Most of these same chemicals are highly toxic to bees and have restrictions on applying them to flowering plants or else restrict their use to when pollinators are not actively visiting flowers. If your neighbor has beehives in his/her backyard, you should talk to them first and make sure the chemical doesn’t drift into their backyard and potentially harm the bees.

I’ve had people call me to ask about these pesticides because they have been told by the company that they’re using “the same chemical found in chrysanthemums.” That statement is true if the company is using pyrethrum or “pyrethrins” but is not accurate if they’re applying something like bifenthrin or permethrin which are synthetic and chemically altered versions of the pyrethrin molecules (“pyrethroids”).

My advice is that before you have your yard treated by anyone, always ask to see a copy of the product’s label and safety data sheet so that you know exactly what is being applied in your yard and if it’s being applied according to directions.

The majority of mosquito-borne disease cases, whether they’re human or otherwise, are due to a lack of personal protection. Horse owners need to spend the time and money to get their horses vaccinated against mosquito-borne diseases such as eastern equine encephalitis.

For us two-legged creatures, we simply need to take precautions when we’re outdoors for work or recreation. With infants, it’s a good idea to use netting on cribs, strollers and carriages when you’re outdoors. For older children and adults, if it’s too uncomfortable to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, then apply insect repellent to your clothing and/or exposed areas of your skin (never under clothing).

DEET is the most commonly used repellent but there are several other effective products. Not all repellents provide protection for the same length of time. Choose a product that fits your needs and preference.

Use repellents carefully, particularly on children. Some repellents are not intended for infants and reduced concentrations are often recommended for children under the age of 12. Never allow children to apply repellents to themselves or to other children. Spray the chemical on your hands and then rub it onto their legs, arms and neck. For more information about mosquito control and repellents visit the website http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/mosquito.htm or contact your local County Extension Center at 704-216-8970.

This article was excerpted from Mike Waldvogel NCSU Entomology Extension Specialist blog post at https://entomology.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/06/the-buzz-on-mosquitoes/