Recently there have been numerous media reports of outbreaks of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus throughout the country. Although most people who are exposed to the virus do not develop symptoms, it can cause a serious, potentially life threatening illness in a small percentage of those infected.
Since August and September are the peak months for mosquitoes, you need to take actions to reduce the likelihood of coming in contact with the disease by controlling the mosquito population. Even though mosquitoes cannot be totally eradicated from your property, you can take measures to reduce their numbers and your chances of being bitten.
Mosquitoes require sources of water to reproduce. These include natural bodies of water such as wetlands, ditches, and lakes, as well as man-made sources such as old tires, open containers left outside, and gutters. Rapidly moving water, such as creeks and rivers, are not suitable breeding sites. The female lays her eggs in the water. The larvae, which are the immature forms of mosquitoes, hatch and appear as small "wigglers." They are one-eighth to one quarter inch in length. In time they emerge from the water as adult mosquitoes.
Only the females bite to suck blood in order to obtain proteins necessary for their eggs. The mosquitoes secrete saliva that causes the development of an itchy welt.
Eliminate their breeding sites wherever possible. Clean out and maintain your gutters. Remove any containers and other items that may hold standing water. Ornamental water gardens can be treated with a "larvicide" which is a tablet containing bacteria that specifically targets the mosquito larvae. It is sold under various brand names such as Bactimos Briquettes, Mosquito Dunks and Mosquito Bits. The doughnut-shaped dunks will slowly dissolve and provide control for up to a month.
Pesticides for mosquito control should only be used as a supplement to source reduction. The chemicals can be applied by a number of methods, but an outdoor aerosol fogger is the most common. Fogging the air around your home during the evening and nighttime hours is the most effective since mosquitoes are most active at this time. Residual insecticides, such as malathion and those containing permethrin can be applied to shrubbery, ground covers, underbrush, and other places where mosquitoes rest during the heat of the day.
However, relief is only temporary and the applications will need to be repeated. Burning mosquito coils can give relief from the insects, but only in the immediate area. Some of the products for sale for mosquito control are not always as effective as they claim. Garlic, herbal remedies and ultrasonic devices have little impact on controlling mosquitoes. Traps using light or carbon dioxide will attract more mosquitoes than they kill, thus increasing the number of mosquitoes in the area.
When outside, apply insect repellants containing a chemical called DEET to reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes. Wear light colored protective clothing, long pants, shoes and socks in areas where the mosquito populations are bothersome. Also keep screened doors and windows in good repair.
These simple actions can help reduce the effects of mosquitoes and the chances of being exposed to the West Nile Virus. While they cannot be totally eradicated from an area, their impact can be minimized.
Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org