Important health updates regarding mosquitos


We’ve all seen that the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) because of clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika. Alarmingly, Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus. CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women! In February the CDC elevated its response efforts to a Level 1 activation, the highest response level at the agency. In April, Federal officials say the risk of Zika is too serious to wait for Congress to appropriate the $1.9 billion the Obama administration has asked for, so they are moving monies from other projects for immediate Zika use. All of this has fueled media activity so it is prudent to separate some facts from fallacies here.

Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Most people don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and there have been very few fatalities. Many people might not realize they have been infected. The latest information has it that once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

While globally Zika transmission is isolated, this worldwide map from May 26, 2016 may give you a perspective for why you’re receiving this message.

The CDC cautiously charts the potential range of the Aedes mosquitos in the USA, adding that this is NOT meant to represent risk for spread of the Zika virus, nor numbers or exact location or concentration of mosquitos..

So how does this affect communities and community leaders, and why all the alarming graphics? By available accounts, there are over 350,000 community associations in the USA. Collectively, 40 million households – over 50% of owner-occupied homes. Here in the Lowcountry, we have no shortage of mosquitoes and breeding areas – including wetlands in common areas. It’s necessary to take this matter seriously both in terms of education and in action, as appropriate. Here are some considerations for community association residents, boards, and managers:

Educate property owners. With your direction and perhaps your own correspondence, we can use HOA email distribution lists to keep your community residents informed and to recommend preventive control measures… and updated on anything the Association may have planned. There are many information sources; I have found the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains current and relevant information here.

Manage mosquito populations and breeding sources. The most concerning species, Aedes aegypti mosquito is considered a "container-breeding mosquito" because it likes to lay eggs in and around standing water. The female mosquitoes prefer to lay eggs in water that collects or is stored in manmade containers. The mosquitoes lay eggs on the walls of water-filled containers. Eggs stick to containers like glue and remain attached until they are scrubbed off. The eggs can survive when they dry out up to 8 months. When it rains or water covers the eggs, they hatch and become adults in about a week.

This makes the obvious but overlooked step is to remove standing water. (I’m completely guilty, myself even as I write this) At least once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out containers that hold water, such as: vases, pet water bowls, buckets, grill covers, birdbaths, trash bins, and rain barrels. A great article is here. We’ve found that the most frequently-overlooked areas in Association common areas are sagging gutters, disused and clogged floor and storm drains, planter saucers, stored boats & sagging boat covers, trash and recycle containers. And out of sight is often out of mind: Freshwater wetlands by definition have pockets of wet areas. These and other low lying areas provide ideal conditions.

Association boards should carefully consider common areas where standing water may exist, especially around playgrounds buildings, pools and wetlands. It is critical to improve drainage in areas with standing water, and where this is impossible to consider alternative measures through pest control professionals.

There is a widely-held misconception that Association ponds breed mosquitos. While there are exceptions and circumstances that could make this so, nearly every HOA pond is “naturally stocked” with minnows – very effective natural larvicide. Fish come in as eggs via wading birds! (Interesting, huh? Well I thought so.). We have great information on our website here from the Taxonomist with Charleston County Mosquito Control.

Some communities have used biological larvicides as “mosquito dunks” available at home centers and by professional pest control companies. Many are perhaps understandably not fans of chemical pesticides. Some like waterlilies as they are naturally larvicidal but not always popular in Lowcountry HOAs as they are often damaged by herbicides used to control other vegetation. Other options include managing cattails which slow water movement, and deliberate encouragement of plants which provide habitats for mosquito predators such as the dragon fly. For ponds which are truly stagnant and have no fish population installation of fountains and aeration systems to circulate stagnant water. This should not be to suggest that fountains really do much here… Ponds which fit the prior description are often too shallow or small to make costly hardware make sense. More broadly, the installation, electrical, maintenance and replacement (reserves) cost is EXTREME and ultimately not a good value. Bubble aerators do turn water and help in maintaining healthy fish populations… but the cost consideration again are considerable. More can be learned at the the EPA’s link here and through a meeting with your lake professionals.

A good editorial on USA Today reminds us that the guiding principle for leaders ought to be preparation without panic. Education of owners, coupled with identification and elimination of standing water sources just makes good sense… both for Zika alarmism in the media and simple comfort in the outdoors!

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