Efforts to keep Zika out of New Hanover County continue

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Containers holding stagnant water are prime breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Containers holding stagnant water are prime breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

Longer and warmer days in the area mean many things – the return of tourists, the celebrations of Azalea Fest, more lazy days on the beach – but they also mean the return of mosquitoes.

The big concern this year is the Asian tiger mosquito, or aedes albopictus, a relative of the aedes aegypti mosquito that has caused outbreaks of the Zika virus in other parts of the world.

Since a major outbreak began to spread northward through Latin America in recent months, New Hanover County officials have taken steps to prevent the mosquito-borne disease from becoming locally transmitted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, five cases of Zika virus have been reported and confirmed in North Carolina, none of which are local.

“There’s none in New Hanover County,” said Joshua Swift, the deputy director of the county’s health department. “All the cases in North Carolina have been travel-related.”

That means people who have traveled to tropical areas, where the disease is present, contracted it abroad and did not show symptoms until they returned to the United States. While it is out of the control of local officials to prevent those cases, the county is focusing on controlling the local population.

“There’s only two kinds of mosquitos that transmit Zika, and we have one of them here,” said Swift, noting that there are over 40 different species of mosquitoes that live in New Hanover County.

Spraying, which only kills adults, has yet to begin for the season, but Swift said the county has already laid out light traps. Mosquitos caught in the traps are then tested to see what kind of species they are.

“We haven’t yet seen any Asian tiger mosquitoes,” Swift said. “We usually don’t see them until May, but we’re doing surveillance.”

Since launching a public education campaign in February, county officials have asked for residents’ help in source reduction, or the elimination of places mosquitoes can breed.

“We’re still stressing for people to be proactive and ‘tip and toss’,” Swift said, explaining that any containers or places that hold standing water are prime breeding grounds for the small bugs. “We’re focused on larvacide.”

Asian tiger mosquitos, which range in size from one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch, need just an eighth of an inch of standing water to breed. That means places like tarps, gutters and plant dishes are perfect places for them to lay their larva. According to officials, they take seven to 10 days to grow from an egg to an adult, so containers should be dumped out every five days.

“While people are doing their spring cleaning and spending more time outside, this is now the time to make sure there are none of the areas around the house,” Swift said. “That’s the best way to get rid of them, to stop them where they breed.”

To learn more about the county’s efforts to prevent the spread of Zika or to find contact information for questions, visit the New Hanover County Health Department website.

For more information on the Zika virus, including prevention, transmission, risks and symptoms, visit the CDC’s webpage on the virus. Unlike other mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile, dengue and yellow fever, Zika is not fatal to adults.