Fighting Zika

With 312 cases of Zika now in the U.S., the virus, devastating for some pregnant women and their babies, is keeping local pest control businesses busy.

The outbreak originated in Brazil and spread to the U.S. in January. It’s been shown to cause birth defects in the babies of some infected pregnant women as well as flu-like symptoms (joint pain, fever and fatigue) in others. Consumers are scrambling to protect themselves.

“We are in mid-June numbers of what we normally do in pre-season sales,” says Art Church, owner of Mosquito Wizard. “Our phones started ringing in January.”

Haze Lancaster, a partner with The Mosquito Authority, another local spraying business, says he’s seeing customers who’d let contracts lapse decide to renew.

“The Zika scare has had a tremendous impact on our business,” says Lancaster. “I’d estimate that we’re up 50 percent over last year.”

The U.S. government has diverted $589 million earmarked for Ebola to fight the Zika virus, for which there is no vaccine. And in April, Gov. Pat McCrory proposed a $750,000 state budget allotment for mosquito control.

Alexandra Lefebvre, Press Assistant for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said the governor’s budget preview announcement allocates funding for two entomologists, mosquito surveillance, a Zika response plan and a testing lab, one of the first in the nation.

There are now eight Zika cases in North Carolina, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. So far, all have been carried over the border from other countries, but with warm, humid weather on the way, it likely won’t stay that way.

“The infected mosquitos are going to start showing up here,” says Church, who recently attended a webinar hosted by the CDC and the World Health Organization.

Lancaster says he’s already fielding calls: “We’ve been in touch with several municipalities and some states about helping them execute a barrier treatment strategy with the expected federal dollars that are coming.”

image1Find a pro

N.C. State Extension Entomologist Dr. Michael Waldvogel says many spraying companies use bifenthrin and deltamethrin to kill mosquitos.

“Some companies have used the term ‘natural’ for these chemicals because they are chemically similar to a chemical derived from chrysanthemums,” he says. “They are considered to have low toxicity to mammals, which includes pets and kids.”

But the chemicals kill more than just mosquitos.

“They’ll kill most insects, including lady beetles and honey bees,” says Waldvogel, of the beneficial insects lost to spraying.

How to choose a pest company?

• Ask if the company is licensed by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They should be able to present a license.

• Contact the NC Department of Agriculture to check for violations.

• Ask for customer references.

What you can do

• Wear long sleeves and long pants.

• Use a repellent containing DEET.

• Avoid the outdoors in the early morning and at dusk when mosquitos are most active.

• Eliminate standing water from pots and outdoor containers.

• Do-it-yourself spray treatments are available in local home improvement stores.

Christa Gala

Christa Gala worked for 16 years as a newspaper columnist and freelance writer across digital and print platforms before joining Raleigh Magazine. Gala is in her fifth semester teaching Writing and Reporting at UNC-Chapel Hill’s renowned School of Media and Journalism.
Christa Gala

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Christa Gala worked for 16 years as a newspaper columnist and freelance writer across digital and print platforms before joining Raleigh Magazine. Gala is in her fifth semester teaching Writing and Reporting at UNC-Chapel Hill’s renowned School of Media and Journalism.