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With summer lurking around the corner, the inevitable return of mosquitoes is also on the horizon.
By Jill S. Devine
The world’s deadliest animal lives in Northern Virginia, and it’s probably lurking in your backyard right now. We’re talking about the common mosquito, but just because it’s small, don’t underestimate its ability to wreak havoc.
“Mosquitoes are responsible for killing more than 725,000 people per year,” says Greg Neiderer, owner of Mosquito Hunters of Ashburn-Leesburg. This claim is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which points to mosquitoes as being a major culprit in spreading deadly diseases, including malaria, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, and lymphatic filariasis.
Where there is water, you will find mosquitoes. This makes flood-prone Northern Virginia, with its riverbanks, marshes, wetlands, and various Chesapeake tributaries, a particularly attractive habitat for these unpopular bloodsuckers. “Being in the middle of the eastern coast, Northern Virginia is home to both warm weather mosquitoes and cold weather mosquitoes,” explains Neiderer. “Our landscapes include rolling hills, heavily wooded areas, creeks, rivers, ponds, and different bodies of standing water which are all great breeding areas for mosquitoes.” Neiderer says Northern Virginians endure an annual mosquito season that lasts from the beginning of May to as late as early November.
According to Fairfax County Health and Human Services, residents have good reason to combat mosquitoes near their homes, noting that West Nile virus is found in Culex mosquitoes in Northern Virginia every year. The virus produces symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, and rash. It is also potentially fatal.
Particularly troubling in Northern Virginia is Aedes albopictus, better known as the dreaded tiger or forest mosquito. This tiny black and fiercely aggressive insect is easily identified by white stripes on its legs and body, and it bites both day and night. It is also can spread West Nile and Zika viruses.
Most counties where mosquitoes pose a threat already have systems in place to control mosquitoes in public areas, but citizens should still take steps to prevent bites and discourage breeding in their own communities and yards.
Neiderer says hiring a professional company like his is your surest and safest bet for bite-free summer. “Experts know how and where to treat to get the best results, while also informing and educating customers on what they can do to prevent mosquitoes from living in their yard,” says Neiderer.
Such companies apply a combination of physical, chemical, and natural treatments every few weeks to keep areas free of breeding grounds and live mosquitoes. Neiderer says the first step is to eliminate standing water. He recommends that homeowners actively drain containers like bird baths, pet bowls, and dishes under flower pots, and that they keep all drains and gutters clear. “Gutters filled with leaves and debris provide mosquito breeding grounds – even a tiny amount of water is sufficient for laying eggs,” he says.
To prevent bites, Neiderer suggests avoiding being outside during peak mosquito hours. “Mosquitoes tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, although this varies by species,” he says. At a minimum, try to wear long sleeves and pants while outside during those times. Neiderer also noted that mosquitoes have preferences. “Mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid, heat, natural oils, body odor, perfumes, lotions, colognes, and alcohol consumption,” he says. “They also prefer type O blood, are attracted to those with blonde hair more than those with dark hair, go for dark clothing more than light colors, and are more active during a full moon.”
Still getting bites? Try applying a repellent spray to your clothing before going outside. Choices range from picaridin (pepper-based) or oil of lemon eucalyptus products to DEET-based (diethyltoluamide) sprays. Burning oil of citronella or lemongrass candles outside may also help, as may choosing plants that naturally repel mosquitoes for your landscaping. These include lavender, basil, rosemary, garlic, lemon balm, sage, marigolds, rose geraniums, and catnip, among others.
Many people prefer to try natural methods of mosquito control before resorting to synthetic chemicals. “Synthetic products do a much better job at killing mosquitoes, because we can add other products to make them adhere better to trees and shrubs and not wash off in the rain and last longer than natural products,” says Neiderer. “Natural products tend to be more of a repellent and tend to not be able to stand up to rain as well as a synthetic product. The product we choose at Mosquito Hunters contains an active ingredient called a pyrethroid. It is the synthetic form of pyrethrins, which are derived from the chrysanthemum flower. This active ingredient is the same compound used in headlice medications and pet shampoos.”
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