With rising concerns about the Zika virus, mosquitoes have even more of a target on their backs than usual this summer. While the bugs spread the disease, the only cases of Zika in Alabama so far have been related to travel to infected areas. As residents try to protect themselves, one type of business is expecting to do well: mosquito control companies.
Matthew Lange is co-owner of Mosquito Squad. Such businesses put larvicide in standing water and periodically spray insecticide around a home to kill mosquitoes. He says this time of year is when business picks up.
“Kids are getting out of school,” says Lange. “People are opening up their pools in the backyard. People are spending more time outside now and especially in the evening times when the mosquitoes are highest.”
Lange says he’s already seen a small increase in calls over previous years. He expects that to rise.”
Driving that rise are people like Justin and Amber Blackburn. The couple have a two-year-old son, Dalton, who likes to play outside in the yard around their north Shelby County home.
“I get eaten up by mosquitoes every year,” says Amber Blackburn.
What may have been an itchy annoyance in previous years is a major concern now because Amber is pregnant. Zika in pregnant women has been linked to microcephaly. That’s a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than normal and can include a range of mental problems. Amber says when she started seeing news reports of Zika and it potentially popping up in the U.S. this summer, she got nervous.
“I remember being at home one day and I just sent him [Justin] a text message and I was like, ‘Do it. Call ‘em. I just want it done,’” says Amber Blackburn.
So for the first time, Amber and Justin Blackburn paid for a mosquito control service. Amber says the decision has helped make her feel better. For Justin, with a background in public health, there’s a split between fact and feeling.
“[I] definitely feel caught between understanding the risk being close to zero right now as we sit here and speak,” says Justin Blackburn. “But also recognizing that I want to make sure that I do everything to protect my family and make sure everything’s going to be fine.”
For the Blackburns, that means regular spraying for mosquitoes.
University of Georgia entomologist Brian Forschler says there’s certainly demand for private mosquito control. But how well it works is the question, because after all, mosquitoes fly. He oversaw a study comparing homes that received a treatment service and those which didn’t. He says the treatments were effective.
“[However] about half of the houses that we sampled that didn’t get any mosquito treatments, didn’t have any mosquitoes at all,” says Forschler.
Forschler suggests that’s because mosquito control services tend to be purchased by middle to upper-income people. They’re less likely to live near abandoned properties and other breeding grounds for mosquitoes, leaving fewer of the pests to begin with.
Matthew Lange with Mosquito Squad says he’s already talked to a few prospective hires in case he does get slammed this summer. And with each Zika headline, he says the odds are pretty good he’ll need the extra people.
We’ve got tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health on how to protect yourself from Zika virus and mosquitoes.