VIRGINIA BEACH — Warmer weather here brings people out of their homes and into their yards, the city’s parks, and onto the beaches.
But it also brings out the always irritating and sometimes dangerous disease carrying mosquitoes.
This year the warmer weather seems to have been a long time coming, so what might a late arriving spring mean as far as mosquito populations in the area?
“I learned many years ago to not try and guess what Mother Nature will do. Most of the time you look foolish if you do,” said Phil Meekins Jr., superintendent of Mosquito Control for the City of Virginia Beach, who has worked in mosquito control since 1979. “I can say that because of lots of wet weather there are plenty of breeding sites for mosquitoes to utilize this spring.”
He said crews are already finding larvae in the standing waters around the city and plan to do their first larviciding treatments this coming week.
Mosquitoes are a part of life in most of the United States; a nuisance that is always present, but is not always a top priority. However, at times the insects remind us how dangerous they can be.
“In Virginia Beach there were no local transmissions (last year),” Meekins said. “Mosquitoes from sites of interest (residences where folks came back from vacation positive with Zika) were caught and tested and all came back negative.”
So far it has been believed that the Aedes aegypti species was the primary (if not the lone) carrier of Zika in the Americas.
Meekins said that although it has been 20 years since an Aedes aegypti mosquito has been trapped in Virginia Beach, the city remains vigilant.
Likewise, while the aegypti has so far been the carrier of Zika in the Americas, he said that in outbreaks in Africa, where Zika originated, and in Asia, it has been the aegypti’s cousin, Aedes albopictus, that served as the mode of transmission. The albopictus is plentiful here.
To stay on top of the mosquito situation, the Public Works Department uses three types of traps set at 70 different locations around the city, where mosquitoes are trapped and analyzed weekly during mosquito season.
“The biologist and her staff do the setting and collecting of the traps, and then the counting of mosquitoes and separation of trap catches by species takes place,” Meekins said. “The data is then provided to the bureau so that treatments can take place in areas of the city where trap catches are high or potential disease vectors are present.”
Mosquito control staff treat for both adult mosquitoes and larvae, which have yet to hatch.
Spraying in areas where trapping has shown mosquito populations to be high is aimed at controlling adult populations, while larviciding kills the immature mosquitoes, eliminating them before they can become a nuisance.
“The city is divided into 12 routes, with known breeding areas of standing water recorded in each route,” Meekins said. “Two-man larviciding crews travel through each route and treat all the known breeding areas every 7-10 days with materials that will kill immature mosquitoes.”
Meekins said some of the known breeding areas of standing water can be treated with a longer lasting residual material (Altosid), and these areas do not have to be visited and treated as often. Those residuals are good for about a month.
Additionally, the city has sentinel chicken flocks at stations around the city. Once a week blood samples from the chickens are collected and sent to a lab, where it is tested for both West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
Of course, residents can work to protect themselves from mosquito bites in a few different ways.
Try to avoid being bitten in the first place by remaining indoors when mosquitoes are at their most active — dusk and dawn typically. Also, wear clothing that is light and loose fitting, and use repellent when going outside.
Eliminate breeding sites around your home by eliminating cans, buckets, tires, and anything in which water can stand. For items that can’t be eliminated, Meekins said to treat the water with BTI briquettes, which are sold as dunks at hardware stores.
Residents can call 757-385-1470 to request a yard treatment (one treatment per year) and to request neighborhood sprays.
If residents have questions about the mosquito control program they can call the number above and leave a message requesting a return call.