Local Health

7/2/2013

Skeeter Wars

By BRITTANY TATE The Brunswick News

As Matthew Hodges scoured bushes for mosquitoes, he saw a small opening where he could stick the nozzle of his backpack chemical sprayer.

Once lodged inside, he released plumes of an insecticide that slithered throughout the bushes, leaving behind a faint white mist.

Though the weather behaved long enough for him to spray the yard, Hodges knows that with rain comes swarms of mosquitoes.

As an applicator for The Mosquito Authority, 352 Slyvan Blvd., St. Simons Island, he understands why stagnant water could spell trouble for your home.

"Mosquitoes reproduce in water, spread diseases, are painful and are pests," Hodges said. And since the Golden Isles is blessed (or maybe cursed in this instance) with warm temperatures and abundant natural breeding locations, it is home to lots and lots of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes use exhaled carbon dioxide, body odors and temperature, and movement to target their victims. Female mosquitoes are the ones you should be wary of - they suck blood and can transmit life-threatening diseases to both humans and pets, unlike males, which feed solely on nectar and other sources of sugar.

There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes in the world today, with about 200 of them in the United States.

The most common of them in Georgia are the Southern house mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito, according to the Georgia Department of Human Services. Both species are container breeders - able to breed in very small containers of water - that generally stay fairly close to their breeding sites.

The Southern house mosquito is most active at dusk and can fly up to a half-mile for a blood-meal, whereas the Asian tiger mosquito stays within 500 yards and is most active during the day. What these mosquitoes leave behind can be more than just itchy, red bumps.

"Besides West Nile (virus), we have had some cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), which is transmitted between birds and mosquitoes, and humans can be infected if bitten by a mosquito that has been infected," said Justin Watson, operator and managing partner of The Mosquito Authority. Other mosquito-borne diseases found in Georgia include St. Louis encephalitis and LaCrosse encephalitis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were 5,387 cases of West Nile virus reported across 48 states in 2012, the most since 2003. Although Eastern equine encephalitis is rare, 30 percent of people who develop the disease die, making it one of the deadliest mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, research shows.

Unfortunately, there isn't a vaccine available to prevent this disease in humans. The best defense to a mosquito attack is to apply bug repellents, cover exposed skin (such as legs and arms), and "turn over anything on the property that can retain water in it, (especially since) a small flower tray can breed as many as 25,000 mosquitoes," Watson said.

If that isn't taking care of the problem, spray an EPA-registered chemical insecticide over your yard that's milder than common bug repellents. It will not harm birds and wildlife around your home, Watson said. Make sure to avoid spraying ponds, aquatic habitats, honey bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

If you have been bitten by a mosquito, itchiness is sure to follow. This is caused by the mosquito's saliva. To alleviate the itching, clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol, alcohol wipes or plain water. Once the area has been cleaned, apply witch hazel, calamine lotion, vinegar or baking soda.

* Reporter Brittany Tate writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at btate@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 317.

Fight back

Here are some ways to protect yourself against mosquitoes:

* Throw away or bring indoors anything that can collect water, such as old tires, cans, buckets and toys.

* Drill drainage holes in tires used as swings.

* Drain and scrub birdbaths, pet dishes and kiddy pools at least once a week. Refill them with clean water.

* Empty water from saucers under potted plants and trash baskets.

* Clean gutters, flat roofs and air conditioner drains frequently.

* Drain or fill stagnant water pools, puddles and drainage ditches around the house.

* Eliminate water-holding tree stumps, and fill holes in trees.

* Keep fish, such as goldfish, in ponds and water gardens to eat mosquito larvae.

* Keep window and door screens tight-fitting and in good repair.

* Maintain pools and hot tubs with proper chemicals and filtration. If you cover a pool, hot tub or boat, remove any water trapped on the cover after each rain.

* Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets so water does not collect.

* Keep grass and weeds mowed, especially on banks next to water, to reduce resting places for adult mosquitoes.

* Avoid spending time outdoors when mosquitoes are active. If you must be outdoors apply insect repellent. Do not use a DEET-based repellent on infants. DEET - an active ingredient found in most bug repellents applied directly to skin - is only safe for adults and older children when used according to package instructions.