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Mosquito Control More Important Than Ever
As spring arrives, Georgians treasure the amazing azaleas and dogwoods but dread those menacing mosquitoes. After last year's outbreak of West Nile Virus in Georgia, many are fearing the biting problem.

"The 2001 mosquito season was one of the most eventful mosquito seasons in recent memory," said Elmer Gray, a University of Georgia Extension entomologist.


Photo:Leonard Mustermann

Asian Tiger mosquitos are one of the most prevelant types of mosquitos in Georgia. Mosquito control is very important in stopping the spread of disease.

West Nile Virus Ready

"The rapid and widespread occurrence of the West Nile Virus this past summer," he said, "is one of the most interesting and unique occurrences in the entomological field in a long time."

Since its discovery in the New York City area during the summer of 1999, WNV has spread from Ontario, Canada to the Florida Keys, most places in between and some beyond. While many experts predicted the disease's spread, it would have been hard to predict how fast it would spread last summer.

Fortunately, the Georgia Department of Agriculture had already begun the Georgia West Nile Task Force before the disease arrived, Gray said.

"The task force had members from most of the primary parties that could and would end up being affected by the disease," he said. "Little did any of the participants realize that Georgia would become a focal point for WNV by midsummer 2001."

Main Mosquito-borne Diseases

Before WNV showed up in Georgia, the state's main mosquito-borne diseases had been Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis and LaCrosse encephalitis.

"While each of these diseases can be serious, debilitating and even deadly, they're fortunately relatively rare," Gray said.

Since 1964, Georgia has had only 41 confirmed cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (23), St. Louis encephalitis (5) and LaCrosse encephalitis (13).

The latest figures show that seven people died from West Nile Virus in 2001 in the United States. One of them was in Georgia, where six cases were reported. In three years nationally, the virus has killed 16 people, or 11.5 percent of the 139 human cases reported.

Horses have been severely affected, with many U.S. cases and a mortality rate of about 23 percent. A vaccine has been rushed to market that should help reduce the risks to horses.

"Considering these numbers and the fact that there were six human cases of WNV in Georgia in 2001, it may pose a more serious mosquito-borne risk than we have had before," Gray said.

"Unfortunately," he said, "the surveillance and reporting of all of these diseases has been inconsistent and poorly supported during the time frames reported. With the arrival of WNV into Georgia, it's more important than ever that the accurate and timely reporting of all mosquito-borne diseases be conducted."

Integrated Mosquito Control Important

The risk of WNV and the other mosquito-borne diseases can be reduced if everyone supports comprehensive and integrated mosquito control, he said. This includes education, surveillance, source reduction and, when warranted, using insecticides to kill larvae and adult mosquitoes.

"Often, mosquito production occurs around our homes and properties as a result of a lack of information or diligence," Gray said. "Mosquitoes develop in standing water. By reducing the amount of standing water, the number of adult mosquitoes that could possibly transmit disease can be reduced."

No one knows what this year's mosquito disease season will hold.

"But considering the lengthy drought Georgia has had," Gray said, "when normal rains return, increased mosquito populations are sure to follow. Considering the new threat presented by the WNV, suppressing our state's mosquito populations has never been more important."

For the latest information on mosquito control, contact your county Extension Service office.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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