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The literal and figurative buzz surrounding the Zika virus has raised more questions than answers. The threat — whether implied or real — has generated significant interest from the media, the public and the pest management industry.

There are frequent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with modeling maps showing an ever-expanding geographic range for potential transmission of the virus should it gain a foothold in the continental United States. Raising even greater concern, in late July the CDC was informed by the State of Florida of a number of locally acquired mosquito-borne cases of Zika virus in one South Florida neighborhood.

“Every day we seem to learn more and more about the Zika virus and the potential dangers it poses,” says Dr. Kurt Vandock, senior scientist and product development manager for the Environmental Science Unit of Bayer, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

While Zika is the latest vector-borne disease to generate headlines it isn’t the only vector-borne disease that poses a threat to Americans. West Nile virus, chikungunya and dengue fever shouldn’t be forgotten.

“Zika is generating the headlines right now but more than one billion people are infected and more than one million people die from vector-borne diseases every year, and consumers and public health officials shouldn’t lose sight of that,” says Vandock.

Kurt Vandock

Since malaria was eradicated in the United States in the 1950s, mosquitoes have been viewed primarily as a nuisance insect that pesters consumers as they enjoy the great outdoors. It has only been in the last decade that the true threat of mosquito-borne diseases has been fully recognized by the public.

“Zika is reminding us in the U.S. what the rest of the world already knows and that is mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on the planet,” observes Vandock. “There are nearly 750,000 mosquito-related deaths annually around the world and that is why Bayer is continuing its commitment to finding solutions for these pressing public health issues.”

AN ALLY IN THE FIGHT. Bayer has nearly six decades of experience developing products to combat all types of vector-borne diseases and its response to this latest threat is not just reactive positioning.

“Mosquitoes are not just pests, they are serious public health threats,” says Vandock. “We are a global Life Sciences Company that also has a specialty chemical focus, but in the end we are committed to providing consumers with a better life.”

Bayer and Vandock feel that education — both for the consumer and pest management professional — should be at the forefront of any mosquito control efforts.

“Raising awareness is very important and that is where the pest management industry can play a role,” he observes. “PMPs can play an important part in educating and informing consumers about mosquito-transmitted diseases, and what steps they can take to protect themselves and their families.”

Homeowners play an important role by helping to eliminate mosquito breeding sites in their yards or neighborhoods. The first step is to eliminate areas of standing water since these are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Bird baths, clogged gutters, flower pots, pool covers and low-lying areas where excess rain water can collect need to be eliminated.

“There is only one way to stop the spread of vector-borne diseases like West Nile and Zika and that is to control the vector — the mosquito,” says Vandock. “We are a strong advocate for the pest management industry’s role in stopping the spread through integrated mosquito management.”

GROWING INDUSTRY ROLE. One of the takeaways from the CDC’s National Zika Summit earlier this year was that the United States is poorly prepared to address the issue as it stands right now. The patchwork network of government and private entities charged with protecting the public from mosquito-borne diseases is not as cohesive as it needs to be.

“Because there isn’t a large-scale infrastructure in place, partnerships with people who have the capacity to do this type of work need to be formed,” says Vandock. “There’s an opportunity for the pest management industry to fill the identified gap in the system.”

Vandock says PMPs should be thinking of ways to expand their service offerings in the mosquito space and considering ways to use their skill sets to deliver solutions to help protect public health.

“The industry is now doing barrier treatments so why not ULV fog for mosquitoes as well?” Vandock asks. “How do schools protect children when they’re outside during recess or attending sporting events? In these situations, there aren’t surfaces available for barrier sprays, so ULV could be a valuable solution the industry could use to help more people.”

Bayer recommends using DeltaGard as a wide-area-space spray for immediate knockdown followed by Suspend PolyZone as a residual barrier treatment since it holds up to the elements (i.e., rain, sunlight) well.

DeltaGard for wide-area-space spraying is one of the newest technologies on the market, according to Vandock. Registered just last year as a U.S. EPA classified reduced-risk product, it’s now available for use by PMPs.

“Area sprays are a valuable addition to an integrated mosquito control program,” says Vandock. “If you can use a product that is reduced-risk at a customer’s home, that’s a huge advantage.”

The product’s low application rate — ½ gram per hectare — is akin to dissolving an aspirin-sized amount of active ingredient and spreading it over an entire football field.

The one-two punch of DeltaGard as a knockdown agent and PolyZone as a barrier treatment gives PMPs a new mosquito control solution to offer customers, Bayer says. “It’s a targeted, professional approach to mosquito control and provides PMPs with access to a new use pattern,” observes Vandock. “Barrier sprays work for a quarter to one acre, but if you are treating a multi-acre homeowners’ association, space sprays protect a larger area more efficiently with less active ingredient.”

The new approach is being used by public health officials in Puerto Rico and Bayer’s field staff is ready to work with PMPs and their public health counterparts in the mainland U.S. to get the ball rolling.

“The industry needs to bring new paradigms and new techniques to the table and PMPs should feel great going to bed at night knowing they’re playing a part in protecting public health,” says Vandock.

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.