Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The mortgage crisis and West Nile virus

mosquitoes like hot tubs tooJust when you think the news couldn't look any more bleak, we learn that home foreclosures are sparking a rise in cases of West Nile virus. Huh? Yes, the CDC's online publication Emerging Infectious Diseases will be publishing an article in November that provides convincing documentation that an increase in home foreclosures (and accompanying abandoned swimming pools) in Kern County, California has resulted in an increase in Culex mosquito breeding in suburban neighborhoods.

Kern County has been especially hard hit by the mortgage crisis, with the number of mortgage defaults increasing 300% from 2006 to 2007. During the same time the number of human West Nile virus cases there increased by 276%. Aerial surveys confirm the high number of abandoned or neglected pools, jacuzzis and hot tubs, as evidenced by their green algae-rich color. It's bad enough to live in a neighborhood of foreclosed homes, but it's worse when those backyard pools turn into mosquito factories.

Several species of mosquitoes, including the principle vectors of West Nile virus, thrive in fish-free water rich in algae and bacteria. In California, both Culex quinquefasciatus and Culex tarsalis larvae have been collected from pools. The situation is similar to what was seen after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, with thousands of scummy pools in abandoned backyards after the storm.

The situation does not appear to be limited to California. According to an online article in even Senator Hillary Clinton has become aware of the issue. She recently asked the CDC to look into the possibility that the foreclosure crisis and vacant homes on Long Island, NY are leaving pools of stagnant water where the virus-carrying mosquitoes breed.

So what's all this got to do with the pest control industry? If your company does residential pest control, you should alert your technicians to the potential health threats posed by abandoned pools. Technicians should report abandoned or neglected pools to customer or the local health department. Health departments should be interested in contacting the owners of such sites as a potential public health nuisance.

If a dirty pool or jacuzzi belongs to a customer, and you have permission, temporary control of mosquitoes is possible by treating pools with Bacillus thuringiensis or methoprene-containing products labeled for mosquito control.

If your company is located in one of the hurricane zones in Texas, noting and reporting potential mosquito breeding sites is even more critical. And if you've been looking for a way to help out in your community, providing chemical or biological control of mosquitoes in backyards might be one of the most important things you could contribute to the re-building effort. If your company is doing something along these lines, let me know. I'd be honored to spread the word about your efforts.

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