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What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
The Zika Virus and what you need to know to Protect Yourself –
Last month Florida Governor, Rick Scott declared a Health Emergency in four counties, Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough, and Santa Rosa counties due to the spread of this mosquito borne virus. I suspect that by the time you read this article, most of Florida will be included in this declaration. The Zika virus is spreading quickly, and the CDC has stated that over one-million people are already infected by this virus in the Caribbean and South America. Why do we need to pay attention to this problem, because, the CDC has also stated that “by year-end, over four million people will become infected by this virus.” In this article, I will explain what this virus is and the steps you need to take to reduce its spread. Let’s get started!
Although many of us are just hearing about this virus now, this is because twenty one people in the state of Florida have already been infected by this virus. The virus was first isolated in the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was discovered in 1947. Carried by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes, Zika has reached pandemic levels across Mexico and the Caribbean in 2015. Travelers from the United States visiting these areas have fallen prey to this mosquito and have since carried this virus back in the States. Humans infected by this virus can also infect other humans through the exchange of bodily fluids. Pregnant women infected by this virus during their first or second trimester can transmit the virus to their unborn child causing microcephaly in newborn babies. Microcephaly is a birth defect in babies that causes the head and brain of the infant to be smaller than others of the same age and sex.
Unlike the normal mosquito bite we are all too familiar with, mosquitoes infected with the Zika Virus leave behind a nasty infection known as Zika fever. About one in five people bitten will develop symptoms of this virus in a few days to a week after exposure. These symptoms may include a fever, rash, joint pain, and/or red eyes. Muscle pain and headaches have also been documented, although these symptoms normally only last for about seven days. Hospitalization is rare in these cases, but you can transmit the virus to others during this time. Please be aware, if symptoms do persist, you could also have the possibility of contracting other mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, and Chikungunya. Chikungunya and West Nile Virus were both found in Florida last year. There are no vaccines or specific medicines to prevent these viruses. You can only try to limit your exposure by controlling the breeding sites of these mosquitoes and taking precautions while walking in your backyard or traveling out of the country.
The breeding sites of these daytime-feeding mosquitoes can include any area of your yard that holds standing water. This includes birdbaths, rain barrels, gutters, old tires, low areas within the landscape, and the drain pans located beneath potted plants. Bromeliads and pineapple plants are especially attractive to mosquitoes due to their water-holding capacity. Many of these areas are often overlooked by homeowners when searching for breeding sources. Even a small bottle cap filled with water, can allow up to fifty mosquito larvae to grow into maturity. Unfortunately, between watering the lawn and afternoon thunderstorms, you may have to re-check these areas for a water buildup. The good news is that there are a few items on the market you can use to combat the larval stage of mosquitoes.
Products like Summit Mosquito Dunks and Summit Mosquito granules should be used in areas where the water buildup cannot be helped. These products contain a bacteria that will kill mosquito larvae but is harmless to people and pets. If you have a rain barrel or a birdbath that needs to be treated, then you can just drop one of the mosquito dunks into the water, and it will kill the mosquito larvae for you for up to a month. For planting areas that contain bromeliads, use the granular material I mentioned above and with the aid of a small handheld rotary spreader, you could cover a large area fairly quickly. I recommend you apply these granules over any areas on the landscape that may hold water for an extended period of time. Treatments made with these granules will help to limit the larval stage of mosquitoes, but will not kill the adult, biting stage.
Adult mosquitoes rest on foliage near their breeding sites, waiting for a blood meal. The only way to control adult populations of mosquitoes is to treat the areas where they rest. To do this, you will need to spray the foliage of the plants and trees around your home with an insecticide labeled for mosquitoes. These applications must be performed monthly to keep the adult populations in check. If you have large trees or many plants surrounding your home, you may want to hire a professional to treat these plants for you. Professional pest-control companies use fogging machines to mist the foliage and penetrate the canopy. Fogging ensures complete coverage of your landscape plants and are professionally applied using a residual insecticide and a growth regulator to kill the adult mosquitoes.
Another benefit of having a commercial application to your property is that many of your neighbors may not pay much attention to the breeding sites in their yards, which means more mosquitoes for you and your family. By having your yard treated, you can rest assured that you will kill the mosquitoes that enter your outdoor living areas. Fogging will also help to control other insects like biting flies, midges, and gnats, which can be especially bothersome in the summer months. If you cannot afford to have these treatments performed on your properties, you still have a few options which you can use to protect yourself and your family from the Zika Virus.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants with shoes and socks will limit the areas of skin exposed to mosquitoes. You should also stock up on sprays of mosquito repellants containing DEET. Make sure you read the label before applying to the skin or clothing. Remember, the carrier of the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is a daytime feeder, so limiting the time you are outside to afternoon hours will not help you if you do not take these precautions. Please take time to inspect and repair screened windows and pool enclosures to help prevent these pests from entering the home. Furthermore, please keep windows and doors closed as populations of mosquitoes increase.
The Zika virus is here, and infestations will continue to build throughout the summer months ahead. Your County mosquito control officials have stated they will only focus on prevention of the larval stages of mosquitoes by draining water containers and educating the public on the preventative steps I have mentioned above. The county has no plans on spraying or fogging for the adult stage of these mosquitoes. You need to protect yourself and your family with repellants, suitable clothing, and/or hiring a local contractor to fog for mosquitoes around your home. Keep informed by contacting your local officials of current outbreaks. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here.