Jun 19, 2020 – As temperatures rise across the country and disease-carrying insects return, COVID-19 appears to be making another casualty: pest control.
The pandemic has got mosquito and tick management under control, making people more susceptible to diseases like Lyme disease, experts say. Health departments are investing resources in fighting the coronavirus and have been forced to limit or suspend pest control, while pest control companies have seen a decline in customers.
“It’s dead compared to normal,” says Richard Bialaszewski, owner of Skeeter B Gone, a North Carolina pest control company in the Raleigh area. “As soon as COVID hit, everything fell silent.”
During an average week at this time of year, the company would receive an estimated 100 calls. These days it’s an average of 20.
The focus on the COVID-19 response has resulted in a reduction in pest control services and a more limited ability to test mosquito and tick samples for disease, says Chelsea Gridley-Smith, director of environmental health for the National Association of County and City Health Officials . Local health departments often add staff during the mosquito and tick season, but this has been hampered by the pandemic.
Less prevention = more mistakes
The shortage means less spraying and trapping in many places. Not only does this leave behind more harmful pests to infect humans, but reducing the number of tests will also skew the reported numbers of infected mosquitoes and ticks.
“On paper, it will show that there are fewer cases of mosquitoes and tick-borne diseases,” says Gridley-Smith. “There must be a big asterisk next to it to say that no tests were done.”
COVID-19 cannot be spread through bugs. However, mosquitoes and ticks are known to transmit several other harmful diseases, including West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus. The risk of infection has only increased over time – vector-borne diseases have tripled in the US. In the 13 years from 2004 to 2016, more than 640,000 cases were reported, according to the CDC. During this time, nine new germs were discovered or introduced that were spread by mosquitoes and ticks.
In 2019, more cases of electrical and electronic equipment – a potentially fatal virus transmitted by mosquitos – were reported in the US than in any other year since 1959.
According to Gridley-Smith, people may be even more susceptible to these diseases in recent months as outdoor activities increase due to social distancing.
“People use public parks and walking trails without the areas being full,” she says. “And if you are out on the trails trying to keep your distance from other hikers, the trails are usually not 6 feet wide. Now you are going to areas where the ticks live. “
She added, “It’s a by-product of the world we now live in. The use of outdoor areas is increasing and this is where ticks and mosquitoes live and wait. “
The Greater Los Angeles County’s Vector Control District, which serves approximately 1,300 square kilometers of LA County, issued a notice last month to suspend all residential requests for the service. In the absence of regular services, the district had to get creative, says Susanne Kluh, the district’s scientific and technical director.
“It mainly has to do with protecting our employees,” she says of the suspension. “Our outreach guys have put together videos that explain how to get rid of ticks and mosquitoes and what to look out for, such as collecting splash water.”
Bug Season Tips
To repel mosquitoes and ticks, the CDC recommends:
- Insect repellants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with active ingredients such as DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil.
- Wear long sleeved shirts and pants when spending time outdoors
- Avoid wooded areas and tall grass
- Removing stagnant water where mosquitoes could lay eggs (bird baths, buckets, flowerpot saucers)
Symptoms to Observe
Electrical and electronic devices transmitted by mosquitoes cause high fever, headaches, tiredness, nausea and neck stiffness.
Deer tick-borne Lyme disease can cause a rash, fever, chills, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
Mosquito-borne West Nile Virus can cause a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body ache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
Boston Children’s Hospital.
Richard Bialaszewski, owner, Skeeter B Gone.
Chelsea Gridley-Smith, Environmental Health Director, National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Susanne Kluh, Scientific and Technical Director of the Vector Control District in the Los Angeles area.
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