published Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Mosquitoes bite into region

Brad Ledford, owner of Mosquito Squad servicing Hamilton and Bradley counties, sprays a North Chattanooga residence Monday.
Brad Ledford, owner of Mosquito Squad servicing Hamilton and Bradley counties, sprays a North Chattanooga residence Monday.
Photo by Dan Henry.

PROTECT YOURSELF

• Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535.

• Try to rid your property of standing water and all areas where it could collect, such as discarded tires, clogged roof gutters and empty containers.

• Reduce overgrowth.

• Report dead crows and blue jays to the local health department so they can be tested for West Nile virus.

• Protect horses by making sure they are vaccinated for mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Insect repellents can be used on horses but with limited effectiveness. Screened stalls can also help reduce exposure.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health

WEST NILE VIRUS

• Mosquitoes become infected with the virus by feeding on infected birds, then transmit the virus to humans and other animals, such as horses, through their bites.

• Usually only 20 percent of infections result in sudden flulike symptoms that may include fever, headache and body aches. Occasionally more severe symptoms occur, and in less than 1 percent of human cases, the virus can be deadly.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health


LEARN MORE

Information on West Nile virus is available on the Tennessee Department of Health website at health.state.tn.us/ceds/WNV/wnvhome.asp.

In the eternal battle between humans and mosquitoes, Brad Ledford fights on the front lines.

Masked and armed with a heavy-duty sprayer, Ledford spent Monday outside homes on Signal Mountain and in North Chattanooga, spraying a fog of repellent across shrubbery, mulch beds and under shady decks -- places mosquitoes tend to rest before heading out to their assaults at dusk.

The bloodsucking insects have gotten bad in the region during late summer -- which means for Ledford, business has been good.

"The past week and a half our phones have been ringing off the hook," said Ledford, who owns the Hamilton and Bradley counties-focused franchise of Mosquito Squad, a national pest control company. "Right now we're experiencing a big mosquito boom, of sorts."

Private exterminators such as Mosquito Squad have been stepping up to fill the gap the Hamilton County Health Department left when last year's county budget cut its 23-year-old mosquito-control program. The program included inspection and treatment of standing water in the area, along with regular fogging and surveillance.

Now bug-bitten county residents are clamoring for some kind of relief from the pests. East Ridge -- which is home to woods and wetlands attractive to the bugs -- has seen a fair share of mosquito misery, says City Manager Tim Gobble.

"East Ridge residents are constantly requesting [spraying], but we sold all our equipment when our county took all that over," Gobble said. "We're requesting the county to step back up."

With reports of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus cropping up in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, fear of the virus has aggravated residents' frustrations about the cut service, Gobble said.

So far, more than 1,100 cases of the virus have been reported nationwide through the middle of August -- more than twice the number usually seen at this point of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the number of West Nile virus cases swells, Tennessee Health Department officials say they expect regional numbers of infections to climb. The West Nile virus "season" typically runs from August to October, said state medical entomologist Dr. Abelardo Moncayo.

"This is the peak of West Nile transition," Moncayo said. "There are certainly cases that we have yet to hear about."

Seven human cases have been confirmed in the state this summer, from southwestern Shelby County to Greene County in the northeast corner of Tennessee. None of the cases has been fatal, though the health department reported that one horse died of the virus.

There have been no reported cases in Hamilton County, said Abena Williams, spokeswoman for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

In Georgia, three people have died this year from the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health. Georgia has had 21 confirmed cases so far -- almost as many as the 22 cases reported in all of 2011, and more than the 13 cases reported in 2010.

Bartow County is the closest one to the Chattanooga area with reported West Nile cases, and it has only one. Dougherty County in South Georgia has the most reported cases with seven.

  • photo
    Brad Ledford, owner of Mosquito Squad servicing Hamilton and Bradley counties, prepares to spray a North Chattanooga residence early Monday afternoon. Ledford recommends reapplication once every three weeks during the late spring to early fall months to remedy mosquito problems.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

In Alabama, 12 cases of the virus have been reported, the state Department of Health said. Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties each have one case.

In Tennessee, state health officials said it's hard to gauge how bad the mosquito problem is in Hamilton County without samples. County officials used to provide the state with regular samples of mosquito pools, which allowed state officials to identify where the virus may be active. That program was cut with the spraying program.

East Ridge leaders are drafting a resolution to ask the Hamilton County Commission to resume the spraying service.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Monday he is open to looking at reinstating the spraying program.

"There are no immediate talks about this, but it is something we should look closely at," he said.

At the time of the budget cuts, the director at the health department said she wasn't confident the spraying was a truly effective way to cope with the yearly problem.

"It is the most expensive and least effective way to control mosquitoes," Becky Barnes told the Times Free Press at the time.

Keeping tabs on the mosquitoes allows state officials to be aggressive with warnings and recommendations for spraying or other preventative measures.

"Otherwise we may be reacting in an emergency cases. By then you're dealing with the adult mosquitoes that are already infected," said Moncayo. "You're sort of playing catch-up."

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