Simple solutions the best for mosquito control
By Susie Ouderkirk
Las Cruces Bulletin
Mosquitos are a pest, especially when we’re trying to have fun during the warm months of summer. Their pesky sting is an annoyance humans have learned to live with. But with recent news about the connection between a virus carried by certain mosquitos and catastrophic birth defects and, possibly, the onset of dangerous diseases in adults, suddenly the blood sucking insects are getting a lot of attention.
“Zika virus is a threat, but no one should panic,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, a veterinarian with the New Mexico Department of Health. “There has only been one case of Zika virus in New Mexico, and that was a man who travelled to El Salvador and came back to Bernalillo County.”
The Zika virus is making waves all around the world to the extent that law makers are taking steps to proactively protect citizens from possible infection. New Mexican Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in April joined Senate Democrats in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran calling for immediate passage of President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding request of $1.9 billion for prevention and treatment of the Zika virus outbreak. According to a spokesman for Sen. Udall, the new letter calls for the Senate Appropriations committee to mark-up the president’s emergency funding request as soon as possible to ensure swift passage by the full Senate and House.
Even with the government on high alert, Ettestad urges New Mexicans to stay calm. The virus has been confirmed in several South American areas, but to date, there are no “locally transmitted” cases of the disease in New Mexico, Ettestad said.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health webpage, the Zika virus can cause “fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). It is rare for a person with Zika virus infection to become severely ill or be hospitalized.” Symptoms are usually mild and last from a few days to a week.
The New Mexico Department of Health website states: “Only certain kinds of mosquitoes are able to transmit the virus that can cause disease: Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito). These two types also are capable of transmitting other diseases to people, such as dengue and chikungunya.”
“Those mosquitos are found in our southern border counties: Dona Ana, Eddy and Chavez,” Ettestad said. “To prevent the Zika infection, we have to stop local transmission of the virus,” he said. “The key is to get rid of the mosquitos’ breeding sites.”
Ettestad makes mosquito control seem simple, if not easy. Because mosquitos lay their eggs
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in water, the first line of defense is to get rid of standing water. “Something as small as a water bottle cap can be a breeding site,” he said.
Controlling mosquitos is not new to the Las Cruces area. According to Ettestad, this area is familiar with mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus. “There are different kinds of mosquitos and they don’t all behave the same. The West Nile mosquito is a totally different mosquito than the ones that carry the Zika virus. Those are a mosquito of the people. They like to live next to you and inside your house.”
The aegypti and albopictus “mostly bite during the daytime,” the DOH website states. Ettestad adds, “they are aggressive day biters.”
Whereas the eggs of the West Nile mosquito must stay submerged in water to hatch, aegypti and albopictus can lay eggs in water that dries up, and, if it rains again, the eggs are still viable and will hatch, Ettestad said. The Zika mosquito, unlike the West Nile carrier, only travels 100-150 yards in its lifetime, he said. “They evolved to survive in a certain situation and we know what that is. And we can interrupt it.”
Not only should homeowners eliminate standing water near their houses, but yard staples such as bird baths and dog water bowls also should be emptied out and the sides scrubbed weekly, he said.
Dr. Kathryn A. Hanley of the Department of Biology at New Mexico State University, is spearheading a program to better study and map the territory of the Zika mosquitos.
“The Zika virus is transmitted by the aegypti and albopictus, and you’re at risk if you live in a place that has those,” Hanley said. However, “Nobody has ever mapped those two types of mosquitoes. It’s a little bit shocking that we haven’t been able to do that.”
Hanley recently received funding for a year that will allow for the “Systematic collecting in the southern part of the state and along the Rio Grande so we will be able to say ‘yes we have that mosquito’ and where.
Graduate student Stephanie Mundis, who studies both Biology and geography, will be, “Literally camping in an old minivan and trapping mosquitos over the summer, or as long as they are alive,” Hanley said. Mundis will be using traps for the next nine months that will attract mosquitos with water and then suck them into a bag “with some kind of vacuum system.”
Mundis will provide information on a weekly basis about where she finds the mosquitos.
What should someone do if they are bitten by a mosquito? “Don’t get bit by any more mosquitos,” Ettestad said. “If I know there are mosquitos looking for me, I can go inside, or get on a long sleeve shirt, or put on mosquito repellent. And pregnant women, don’t travel to an area where there is local Zika transmission.”
The NMDOH is asking New Mexicans to keep an eye out for the black-and-white mosquitos. They can sometimes be distinguished by their bold black-and-white markings, which are different from the gray or brown color of most other kinds of mosquitoes,” the DOH website states.
If you have seen black and white mosquitoes that bite during the day in New Mexico, take a clear photograph and email it as an attachment to us at our firstname.lastname@example.org address. Please be sure to include when and where you saw the mosquito.