They’re back…with Zika?! Mosquito control in the season ahead

BY KIT SLACK — Have you ever been in Magruder Park on a peaceful summer evening, say at a soccer game, and thought, “That’s funny!  How can I have been sitting here for half an hour, and only had to kill two mosquitoes? If I sit on my porch at home, I get 10 bites in 30 seconds!”

We don’t see as many mosquitoes in the park partly for the same reason we don’t see rats, houseflies, or kittens. Tiger mosquitoes, the black and white mosquitoes that typically plague Hyattsville residents, breed best near homes. “Peridomestic” is the word used by Daniel Schamberger, acting program manager of the Maryland Mosquito Control Administration.

“People call us because they are concerned about ditches, ponds, or wet areas in woods,” said Schamberger, “but tiger mosquitoes don’t breed there, they breed in containers.”  Originally, tiger mosquitoes, native to Asia, bred in bamboo stalks and in trees, rather than in marshes.

“The worst thing that happened to suburbia,” said Jeanine Dorothy, Prince George’s County supervisor for the Mosquito Control Administration, “are those plastic corrugated pipes that people attach to their downspouts.”  Each trough in the accordion-style tubing is a warm, wet, tiger mosquito hatchery.  Other breeding grounds include portable basketball hoop stands, clogged gutters, and plastic outdoor chairs turned upside down — “anything that will hold a half-teaspoon of water,” according to Dorothy.

In a push for residents to clear out such containers prior to mosquito season, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared the last week of April Zika Virus Awareness Week.”  In Maryland, nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus have been diagnosed.  Public health officials are cautioning pregnant women that Zika may cause birth defects. The virus has recently spread to the Western Hemisphere, though not to the continental United States. Once mosquitoes become more active in early May, they may get Zika by biting people who contracted it abroad. Once mosquitoes have Zika, they could spread it.

This should make us especially interested in the other reason mosquitoes don’t bite as much in the park: the work of the Maryland Mosquito Control Program, which has been around since 1956.  Dorothy says that teams have been out to Hyattsville already to apply larvicide in wet areas in Magruder Park, killing mosquito larvae before they mature.  

Dorothy warns, however, that when “people don’t clean up” containers in their yards, the larvicide is not enough, and the state ends up spraying to kill adult mosquitoes.  The City of Hyattsville maintains that this spraying “is not effective against” tiger mosquitoes,  perhaps because, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, “mosquitoes killed by spraying” may soon be “replaced by newly emerged adults.”  

Nonetheless, every three weeks Dorothy’s team sets a dry-ice trap for mosquitoes near where Crittenden Street dead-ends into Magruder Park. According to Dorothy, if the trap catches 24 or more female adult mosquitoes overnight, the state schedules a truck to come to Hyattsville on the following Monday evening, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., to spray something called Biomist 30+30.

Those who keep bees or have backyard ponds beware!  The label for Biomist 30+30, which is linked from the Maryland Department of Agriculture website, says that the pesticide is “highly toxic to bees” and “extremely toxic to. . . fish and invertebrates.”

Wondering why you’ve never seen the truck out to spray? According to Dorothy, the drivers have instructions to go on to the next block if they see anyone out on the street.

Also, by last year, more than a dozen residents had applied for, and received, exemptions from spraying.  Each exemption also applied to a 300-foot buffer zone around the property. Dorothy said this rendered much of the city “a checkerboard,” in which the state could not effectively spray.  Areas where spraying could still be done, according to Dorothy, included swaths near Magruder Park and near Route 410.  

Dorothy also stated that in prior years, exemptions remained in effect from year to year.

This year, however, the old exemptions are being thrown out. According to Jake Rollow, Community Services Director of Hyattsville, “All residents who would like to be excluded from spraying — including those that have been excluded in previous years — must inform the state AND the city of this desire no later than May 15.”

However, according to the exemption application, if a “mosquito-borne disease” like Zika “threatens public health,” spraying will go forward as the state deems necessary, regardless of exemptions.

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