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New Jersey Mosquitoes and the Zika Virus - A Spring 2016 Update

Monday, April 4th, 2016 by Bill Cowley

Normally, mosquitoes do not become a hot topic until the summer when we are trying to enjoy backyard barbeques while swatting away pesky mosquitoes. But this year is anything but normal. Mosquitoes have been a hot topic in New Jersey before spring has even sprung. Why? The one-word answer is Zika. The Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, has been linked to a number of severe medical issues, ranging from temporary paralysis to extreme birth defects. The Zika virus had  been identified only in tropical regions where the Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus species of mosquitoes are normally found. But things have changed. First, there have been a number of confirmed Zika with travelers returning from Zika-infested areas, including right here in New Jersey. Second, there is strong evidence that once someone is infected, the virus can spread from males to females through sexual transmission. Third, we were originally concerned that the Asian Tiger Mosquito (aedes albopictus), a relative of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, could be a potential carrier of the Zika virus. Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is known to carry the virus, may well live in a much larger area than previously thought, extending to all of New Jersey.

The weather has not yet warmed enough for mosquitoes to become active here in Pennington, NJ, and the other surrounding areas, and experts agree though that that the Zika virus is not yet a threat to our area. One expert predicts that it could take until July for the Zika virus to reach the Garden State. So, what can a person do to keep mosquitoes away from their property this summer? There are a number of things you can do now, and also a number of things you should do once the weather turns warmer.

First, stay on top of the news! Mosquito experts at the CDC and at universities, including experts right here at Rutgers, will continue to track Zika virus transmission. You can rest assured that Cowleys will stay on top of all mosquito and Zika news to keep you updated.

Second, if you are planning to travel to a warmer climate, take appropriate precaution, especially if you are pregnant. If you are traveling to an affected region, check the CDC’s Zika Travel Information website to understand what precautions you should take. Pregnant women should strongly consider delaying their travel plans. Wearing long sleeves and long pants can significantly cut down on your chances of being bitten by a mosquito. If you do not foresee yourself wearing long sleeves on your vacation it is a good idea to invest in a good bug repellant. Remember, while Zika is the disease that is making headlines in the news right now, it is far from the only mosquito-transmitted disease. Mosquitoes are the deadliest insect on the planet, transmitting a host of diseases throughout the world including malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile virus.

Third, when the weather starts getting warmer, make sure your property does not become a mosquito nursery. Most important:

• Get rid of standing water from your yard! It doesn’t take much water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Standing water can be less than an inch deep and still be a breeding ground. So, take a good look around your property and keep an eye out for some common places where water congregates that are often overlooked – places like saucers at the bottom of potted plants, toys (like Frisbees) that are left outside, old tires, and clogged drain spouts.

• Make sure that water is removed from these places frequently, and be sure to include gutter cleaning in your spring cleaning routine.  Some of us have places in our yard where we keep standing water for aesthetic purposes, like birdbaths. These places need to be maintained properly. Birdbaths are beautiful and a wonderful way to attract brightly colored birds to the yard, but if you do not regularly change the water, they will also attract things not so attractive – like biting mosquitoes.

• Decorative ponds are another place where mosquitoes can hatch their eggs. If you have a pond, keeping fish is to your advantage. Many fish like to eat mosquito larvae. Your pond should have a fountain or other device to keep the water constantly moving.

Finally, consider Cowleys Mosquito Defense Program. In the past, we have recommended mosquito treatment, but now, with potential for mosquitoes capable of transmitting the Zika virus looming over us, it’s a whole new ballgame. This year, we strongly recommend a mosquito treatment. And if anyone in your household is pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or you have had high mosquito populations on your property in the past, a mosquito defense program should be seriously considered.