One thing I detest is having a nice evening outside ruined by a flock of hungry mosquitoes that thinks I’m a quick snack. This is after I’ve lit all the citronella candles and applied enough mosquito repellant to make my skin have a not so pleasant burning sensation. As I retreat to the safe harbor of indoors, I feel like I’m on the U.S. Battleship North Carolina, defending myself from enemy dive-bombers. Once inside and safe from their frenzied attack, I turn on the TV and watch a documentary on how I now may be infected by the Zika virus; a virus transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito which causes fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache. This virus can also be passed from mother to fetus in pregnant women, and is a known to cause birth defects. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should call your medical doctor for diagnosis immediately.
According to the CDC, there are over 1650 cases of Zika virus reported in the US. Almost half of these cases are located in Florida and New York – North Carolina has 21 confirmed cases to date. Currently, only 4 of the total number of cases have been attributed to being bitten by an infected mosquito in the US and all are locally concentrated in Miami, Florida. All the other Zika cases have been traced to travels outside of the United States. This is not meant to downplay the seriousness of this virus, but means you are at a very low risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito in NC at this time.
Reducing mosquito populations helps reduce both the nuisance biting aspect as well as the risk of exposure to mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika, or other viruses transmitted by mosquitos. Community wide efforts such as “tip and toss” should be practiced by each homeowner. A study conducted by North Carolina State University (NCSU) focused on detecting mosquito breeding sites in a typical residential setting. NCSU found the following:
62 percent of all buckets examined tested positive for mosquito larvae
68 percent of all plant dishes examined tested positive for mosquito larvae
85 percent of all tree holes examined tested positive for mosquito larvae.
72 percent of all plastic or tarps examined tested positive for mosquito larvae.
29 percent of all birdbaths examined tested positive for mosquito larvae.
55 percent of all tires examined tested positive for mosquito larvae.
57 percent of all children’s toys tested positive for mosquito larvae.
To reduce the mosquito populations in our properties and neighborhoods, implement an integrated mosquito management plan that focuses on source reduction, personal protection and chemical control. We should first focus on disrupting the mosquito life cycle to achieve any long term success. As a homeowner, check your property for any of the above possible breeding sites for mosquitos. Tip and toss all water found in buckets and tarps and place under a shelter where rainwater will not collect. Tip and toss water standing in plant dishes and refrain from overwatering plants, which causes water to stand in plant dishes. Clean birdbaths periodically and wash with a garden hose. Fill any tree holes with expanding foam to keep water from standing in stumps or broken branch holes. Discarded tires can be carried to local tire recycling centers – there are several located in the Wake County area. Check children’s toys for standing water and store under shelters or turn upside down.
Clean your gutters bi-annually to keep leaves and pine straw from causing standing water which will become infested with mosquito larvae.
Personal protection strategies include wearing long sleeve shirts and pants while outside, and applying mosquito repellants. Consumer Reports conducted testing on mosquito repellants and found those containing DEET, Oil of Eucalyptus, or Picaridin offered better protection than repellants made with natural plant oils such as citronella and lemongrass. Make sure you read and follow the labels of any repellants and apply at recommended rates and intervals.
Lastly, use chemical control to eradicate adult mosquitos in and around your property. According to the NC Agricultural Chemical Manual, products labeled for indoor use have active ingredients such as cyfluthrin (Bayer), deltamethrin (Black Flag, Raid), tetramethrin (Hot Shot), phenothrin (Raid), and pyrethrins (Raid). For outdoor use look for mosquito dunks containing bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to place in birdbaths, water features, ornamental pools, or small ponds. Aerosols or foggers recommended for outdoor use include products such as bifenthrin (Ortho), deltamethrin (Black Flag, Raid), gamma-cyhalothrin (Spectracide), or cyfluthrin (Bayer).
When using any chemical product, please keep in mind that a chemical doesn’t always land where you direct your spray, particularly under windy conditions. Be mindful of spray drift and beneficial insects, as these chemical products are harmful to bees. Read the pesticide label before you spray and never treat where children or pets are found. Also don’t let anyone (pets included) enter the treated area until the re-entry interval time has passed.
For more information on the Zika virus, contact your local health center or search for Zika virus on the Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov. To learn more about mosquito control visit NCSU’s insect notes on residential, structural and community pests at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/mosquito.htm.
Any recommendations for the use of chemicals are included solely as a convenience to the reader. They do not imply that insecticides are necessarily the sole or most appropriate method of control. Any mention of brand names does not imply endorsements by me or by North Carolina Cooperative Extension or NC State University nor does it imply that the product is superior to others Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for using these products according to the regulations in their state and to the guidelines on the product label.
Brad Hardison is an Agricultural Extension Agent specializing in horticulture. Contact him by calling the Sampson County Extension Center at 910-592-7161 or by emailing [email protected]