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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

AgriLife Extension offers tips for avoiding Zika

Special to the HHES

The mosquito-transmitted Zika virus is a potential threat to the health of unborn babies in Texas and other states, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has stepped up efforts to educate the public on ways to protect themselves from this new menace.

While people enjoy outdoor activities and travel this summer, it’s important to remember that our first line of defense against Zika is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.  The Aedes aegypti and A. albopictus mosquitoes that transmit Zika occur commonly in our backyards where their eggs are laid and larvae live in standing water. Like other mosquito species, they are active at sunrise and sunset, but commonly bite throughout the day as well.

Simple steps such as repairing screen doors and window are critically important to keeping mosquitoes out. Managing landscape water features is another key area in the fight against the spread of the Zika virus.

Mosquito dunks, commonly sold in garden centers for mosquito control in home water features, can be used to treat water that cannot be readily drained.  The dunks contain insect growth regulators or mosquito-specific bacteria to effectively control mosquito larvae. Neither approach is harmful to fish or other aquatic organisms.

Fighting Zika will be much different than fighting West Nile virus.  Aedes mosquitoes infected with Zika are not easily detected, so health officials have to rely on actual human cases to identify hot spots.

In addition, city and county truck-mounted sprayers are less effective at killing Aedes mosquitoes, so stopping these mosquitoes in each and every backyard is even more important.  Everyone will need to pitch in.

Anything that holds water should be dumped or treated. Breeding areas can include sites as benign as containers under potted plants and bird baths. Other trouble areas are old tires, empty cans and bottles, kiddie pools, buckets, boat tarps and even clogged gutters.

It doesn’t take much water for them to reproduce.  Small containers can hold enough water to breed mosquitoes. Aedes mosquitoes don’t travel far from their larval habitat, so if you’ve got them, chances are you unknowingly raised them.

There are many mosquito repellents available, but all approved formulations share two  commonalities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration of these repellent products means first, that the active ingredient has been tested and is safe for people to use, and second, that it’s effective in repelling mosquitoes when used as directed.

EPA and the Centers for Disease Control have evaluated scientific reports and conclude mosquito repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, called IR3535, as active ingredients provide reasonably long-lasting protection from mosquito bites.

As people travel and return from areas affected by Zika, some will return carrying the virus. When Aedes mosquitoes bite infected people, they acquire the virus. The mosquito then transmits it to an uninfected person, passing the virus to them.

For more information, contact  Dr. Swiger at slswiger@ag.tamu.edu or Dr. Merchant at  m-merchant@tamu.edu  or the Bell County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Office at 254.933.5305.

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