Seeing workers in Ghostbusters-like gear spraying in your neighborhood? Don’t be afraid. It’s just the next round of mosquito control from the Lorain County General Health District.
While Zika virus concerns may be new to Ohio and America, health officials say tried-and-true precautions apply to home mosquito maintenance.
“Homeowners usually attempt to control mosquitoes near large bodies of water,” said environmental health programs manager Scott Pozna. “What we’ve found is that things like an old tire, clogged gutters, or a bucket holding just an inch of standing water are more suitable breeding grounds. It’s pretty much the same preparation that goes on every year.”
Zika hasn’t made its way into Lorain County but it’s in Ohio, including neighboring Cuyahoga County.
The disease is carried in the United States by the yellow fever mosquito. The breed is naturally limited to the southern and south-central U.S. and can travel north in storage containers and shipments of tires.
While it hasn’t migrated north, Pozna said laboratory tests show the Asian tiger mosquito in Ohio is capable of carrying the virus. There have been no recorded cases in the U.S. of that mosquito naturally carrying Zika, but it has happened in Mexico and Central America.
“Any cases of Zika in Ohio have been travel-associated and did not originate here,” Pozna said. “What happens in a laboratory and in nature are two separate things, but if we’re starting to see Zika pop up naturally in the Asian tiger in other countries, we’ll be ready for it if it comes here.”
Lorain County health commissioner Dave Covell said dry conditions have led to relatively low levels of mosquito complaints this year and measures taken by citizens to protect themselves vary by location.
In low-lying and rural areas such as Wellington and Oberlin, keeping an eye on standing bodies of water is that much more important because they tend to build up faster. Northward, in Amherst and Lorain where buildings tend to be closer in proximity, gutter maintenance affects not just property owners but also those who are in the vicinity.
“Roof gutters are a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said, “not just on your main home but maybe on your barn or any other structures. If you have low-lying land on your property that is not well drained in the springtime you can notify us and we will put you on a spring breeding map. We will come out and treat the area every year in the spring to make sure you don’t have a large mosquito larva hatching.”
When it comes to repellent, the health district lays out the appropriate kinds to use on its website.
For one or two hours of outdoor exposure, they recommend repellent with 10 percent DEET or picaridin. For two to four hours outside they say to choose products with 15 percent DEET or picaridin, or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus. They advise using only repellents containing 20 to 50 percent DEET for trips of five hours or more outdoors.
“In the old days, general use pesticides were used with mosquitoes,” said Pozna. “They did their job too well, in that they killed things that you didn’t intend to kill. What we use now is a specific-use pesticide that controls mosquitoes but doesn’t harm other species.”
Pozna said his department uses a Permethrin-based product, which is a synthetic form of naturally occurring insecticides in chrysanthemum flowers. It is biodegradable and safe for humans and birds but has been shown to be harmful to fish and bees.
“Our spray product contains two percent of the active ingredient,” he said. “Home products can be up to 50 times stronger than what we use. Even caffeine can be toxic in the correct dosage as has been proven with the concentrated powders that were being sold in stores. People think we have a magic elixir that we use, but it’s really just the same thing that they buy.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier | Civitas Media Environmental health technician Duane Cribley demonstrates spraying techniques used by the Lorain County Health District to combat mosquitoes.