Tips for protecting against mosquitoes

by | Aug 20, 2012

The Asian tiger mosquito can spread West Nile Virus. Photo credit: N.C. State University

Recent reports of the West Nile Virus appearing across the country and in North Carolina have led many people to ask what they can do to prevent the spread of the disease. One of the easiest ways is to manage mosquito populations and prevent breeding pools from forming in the first place.

“The mosquito species that transmit West Nile Virus tend to breed in wastewater collection areas and stagnating catch-basins,” said Dr. Michael Waldvogel, extension associate professor and pest specialist with N.C. State University. “So, one obvious approach for residents is to make sure they clear stagnating water sources on their property.”

Many areas of the state have received substantial amounts of rain this summer. As a result, some of those areas could see a rise in mosquito activity and therefore, increase cases of mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

Waldvogel, who is also a member of the N.C. Structural Pest Control Committee, recently compiled a list of areas farmers and homeowners can use to look for signs of breeding pools on their properties.

  • Bird Baths: Flush them out with a garden hose and flush out the mosquito larvae in the process. Plus, the birds will appreciate the fresh water.
  • Horse Troughs: For horse owners with water troughs near stalls or out in pastures, one option is to use a product, such as a mosquito dunk, that contains the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis. The bacteria will kill the mosquito larvae, but not adults.
  • Water Bowls: Although you can use mosquito dunks in water bowls for pets, it is far simpler if you “tip and toss” the water from the bowl and replenish it with fresh water daily.
  • Old Cans, Tires, etc.: Empty them and get rid of them through your local waste disposal service.
  • Flower Pots: Empty the water from the overflow trays. Your plants have plenty of water without the overflow. This also helps reduce fungus gnat problems in the plant soil.
  • Gutters: Remove all of that built-up debris from your gutters. The water and decaying material attract mosquitoes.
  • Rain Barrels: If you collect water from your gutters or some other system, make sure the barrel is screened to keep out debris and mosquitoes.
  • Tarps: Tarps that cover your boat, grill or firewood also collect pockets of water that can remain for up to two weeks.
  • Vehicles: The bed of that ’57 Ford pickup you’ve been “restoring” for the last 25 years can collect water, particularly if the tailgate faces uphill.
  • Kiddie Pools: If they’re not being used by kids, they’re probably being used by the mosquitoes – empty them. The same thing applies to pools that aren’t maintained.
  • Drainage Ditches: Keep them free of debris so water flows and has time to filter into the soil.
  • Decorative Fish Ponds: These can be a source of mosquitoes if they contain a lot of vegetation, which provides hiding places for mosquito larvae. Mosquito dunks could be used in this situation.
  • Tree Holes: When limbs fall off trees, the remaining hole in the trunk can collect water. Flush out the water or put a small piece of a mosquito dunk into it.

In addition to preventative methods made on your property, Waldvogel encourages people to remember personal protection when they go outside.

“Horse owners need to spend the time and money to get their horses vaccinated against EEE,” Waldvogel said. “For us two-legged creatures, we simply need to take precautions when we’re outdoors for work or recreation.”

Protective measures can include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover all areas of your skin. If it’s too uncomfortable to wear those items, you can protect your skin with an insect repellent. Before applying any repellent on children, remember to read the label carefully and make sure it contains concentrations appropriate for use on children.

Mosquito management is a long-term proactive project that requires a community effort in order to succeed. You can find more information about mosquito management on the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service website. Horse owners can learn more about the history, prevention and treatment of  EEE on the department’s website.