Rain increases need to protect against mosquitoes that may carry Zika

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Rain increases need to protect against mosquitoes that may carry Zika

Amid all the rain falling on the Atlanta area last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data finding a substantial increase in the number of southern U.S. counties with two mosquito species capable of spreading Zika.

After the 2016 Zika outbreak in Florida, the CDC surveyed more U.S. counties, and the number of counties reporting a presence of the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) increased 21 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Zika can cause birth defects if it’s contracted by pregnant women.

Those two mosquito species are also fond of water, because it creates the ideal place to lay their eggs.

Georgia is home to over 60 species of mosquitoes, including species that are capable of carrying yellow fever, West Nile virus and Zika. FOTOLIA / TNS The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s rich diversity of wet habitats — salt marshes, swamps, ponds, plus man-made standing water environments like roadside ditches, swimming pools, and artificial containers such as tires, buckets and planters — only increases after rainfall. So while the state’s mosquito season has started off a little slow, as the rain leaves behind more standing water, University of Georgia entomologist Elmer Gray expects the Asian tiger mosquito population to rise dramatically.

“We’re fortunate in Georgia that the yellow fever mosquito is not as common, although there is a small population recorded in Columbus,” Gray said. Georgia is also home, however, to mosquito species capable of carrying West Nile virus, which is endemic to the state. Fortunately, those mosquitoes need longer-term stagnant water to lay eggs, so all of the recent rainfall has flushed out their habitats, Gray said. The peak season for the West Nile virus-carrying species is not until August to Sept. 15.

To reduce mosquito population, remove any unnecessary water-retainers around your home, and replenish standing water (such as birdbaths and your pets’ water bowls) frequently. If there is a large population of Asian tiger mosquitoes where you live, there is most likely something nearby providing them a habitat, Gray said, because the species is known to travel only within a distance of 100 yards.

Abandoned tires create the perfect habitat for mosquitoes to breed. Removing any water-retaining objects from your property will reduce the areas available for the insect to lay eggs. AJC FILE PHOTO The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The UGA Cooperative Extension Service suggests taking these steps:

  • Remove old tires or store them indoors. Drill holes in those used as tire swings to allow them to drain.
  • Position tarps, garbage cans and lids so that they don’t hold water.
  • Remove vegetation or obstructions in drainage ditches and gutters that prevent the flow of water.
  • Remove toys, cups and other objects from around your yard that hold water.
  • Replace water in birdbaths, planters, pet and animal feeding dishes or troughs at least once a week.
  • Fill holes in hardwood trees that hold water with spray, insulating foam sealant.
  • Fix dripping outdoor faucets that create pools of water, and monitor areas around and within drainage pipes for standing water.
  • Keep vegetation trimmed and grass cut to reduce the hiding places for adult mosquitoes during the hottest part of the day.
  • Ensure screens on doors and windows are intact.

Fulton County established a mosquito control program in 2001 after the state experienced its first case of West Nile virus, and the city of Atlanta recently announced a new mosquito prevention program. Cobb and DeKalb County Public Health departments maintain mosquito control programs, while Gwinnett County does not. Many local pest control businesses also offer mosquito control programs to help eliminate and suppress mosquito populations in and around your home.

Not all of the state’s mosquito species are disease-carrying, Gray said, but it is still important to wear light, loose clothing and use EPA-approved repellent to protect any exposed skin to prevent bites.

To learn more about mosquito control and bite prevention, go to www.caes.uga.edu/departments/entomology/extension/controlling-mosquitoes.html. 

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