by Lorraine McCarty
Mosquito management and other matters involving the Kent Health Department were the topics of discussion when the interim commissioner for the department, Justin Smith, spoke at the KEC breakfast meeting on July 30.
Smith, who came to his position with a degree in conservation from Kent State University, said that trapping mosquitos is his passion, but he realizes that other methods must be used for the health and safety of residents. Smith then discussed the city’s four-part mosquito-control program–education, surveillance, larviciding and adulticiding–which runs from May through September.
Education. People need to know that mosquitos breed every five days in stagnant water and that they need only very small amounts of water, such as a tire track or a bottle cap, to multiply. The health department uses interns as customer-service representative to talk to people about the risks of rain barrels, the need to empty buckets and other sources of standing water, and the need to change water in birdbaths every five days. Smith noted that a bubbler helps if you have a have a small fountain in your yard. He added that it is important for people to keep their properties free of possible breeding grounds.
Surveillance. The health department identifies locations throughout the city where mosquito populations are building up at both natural and man-made breeding sites. Staff set traps for mosquito specimens on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and come back the next morning to identify what is in the traps. Smith said his staff has found up to 3,000 mosquitos in one trap. They count the number of mosquitos and then send the mosquitos to Columbus, where the insects are tested for viruses. The results come back in a week. If something dangerous was found, Smith said, the health department will issue a news release within one week and spray the quadrants of the city where the problem mosquitos were found.
Smith said the health department recently caught a mosquito that tested positive for West Nile virus. The virus, he added, probably was brought into the area by migrant birds. No human cases of West Nile have been reported in Kent or in Portage County, said Smith, adding that mosquitos with West Nile virus are found throughout Ohio. The Asian tiger mosquito, said Smith, often comes from the south and usually is found in junkyards, in places where scrap tires are left in the open and in garden shops. The tree hole mosquito, on the other hand, poses the danger of encephalitis. Smith said he knew of one local case that involved a mosquito bite and the development of encephalitis–that of a six-year-old boy in Stow.
Larviciding. The daytime treatment of areas of standing water helps reduce the mosquito population, said Smith. He noted that when staff are driving around and see potential breeding sites, they dip a scoop into the water and, if they find larvae, they get the landowners to correct the problem or they treat the larvae with a naturally occurring bacterium called Bti, which is toxic only to mosquito and black-fly larvae and won’t harm beneficial insects. Daytime treatment and the use of Bti, said Smith, are the most effective controls and are the ones used the most. Cold weather can kill the larvae but, if the larvae do survive, it is in storm drains. Smith noted, however, that storm drains in Kent are difficult to treat because water in those drains flows into the Cuyahoga River.
Adulticiding. The evening spraying of residential streets to reduce the number of adult mosquitos is the last resort and is used when a virus has been found or when the nuisance value of the mosquitos has exceeded a certain threshold. The health department gets many calls, both positive and negative, about The chemicals used have changed from the past. Kontrol 4-4, said Smith, is not the most environmentally friendly product, but it is what the department can afford. Zenodex also is used and has a toxicity level that Smith describes as “less than a cup of coffee.” It is water-based rather than oil-based and therefore leaves no residue, Smith noted. The health department does not spray until sundown, which helps to protect dragonflies, bees and moths by limiting their exposure to the chemicals, although moths, said Smith, can be collateral damage. He said the health department does its best to be less toxic to bees and uses a product called Mavrick Perimeter to spray on a tree line in mosquito-infested areas but only as a last resort.
It’s important to try to avoid being bitten by mosquitos, said spraying. Smith. He noted that mosquitos are attracted to odors–especially body odors. They also look for carbon dioxide, starting with birds and on up the food chain. Covering up outside also is important, said Smith, adding that health department workers use a product called Repel, which contains 45% DEET, as they complete their outdoor tasks. Smith stressed that when using DEET, spray it on clothes and not on skin. “Drench from the knees down with the stuff. It stinks but works,” said Smith.
When asked about climate change, Smith said that it can affect the types of mosquitos found in the environment. “We got rid of malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitos, but it could come back,” said Smith. For more information about the Kent Health Department’s mosquito-management program or for a form to request mosquito-control services, click here.
Purple martins (the largest North American swallow) and bats both eat mosquitos. There has been an increase in the bat population, said Smith, adding that about one in 12 bats has rabies. They bite or spit the virus, which is 99% fatal. Smith noted, however, that the benefit of bats outweighs the rabies threat. The health department has a brochure on bats with more information.
Ticks are among the southern bugs can make their way up to Northeast Ohio, said Smith. The increase in the number of ticks is getting worse and worse, he added. This year is the first time that Smith has seen blacklegged ticks in Kent. The ticks transmit Lyme disease, which is common in the South. Smith added the health department also is on the lookout for the American dog tick, which causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the Lone Star tick, which we have not been seen in Kent. Both ticks are very susceptible to cold weather but, as the climate warms, they could come here and survive, said Smith.
Because ticks can cause disease, it is crucial to get a tick off of you within 24 hours, said Smith. “Don’t grab and pull. Use tweezers instead. Just tug on it like you would taking off a Band-Aid, and it will pop out. You want to avoid backflow of toxins into the body,” said Smith.
Deer population control is on Kent City Council’s agenda, said Smith. The health department, he said, is trying to get council to allow sharpshooters to kill deer for population control and then donate the meat to food banks. Once in a while, said Smith, the health department has moved a deer. No one else can remove deer, he added. Deer also are involved with the spread of ticks. Smith explained that ticks fill up by biting a deer, and then they drop off the deer and are left where people and animals can pick them up when they walk in the area. Smith noted that the walking path to Dix Stadium from Kent State University is one that deer also use because it is easier for the deer to use. This path, said Smith, is where the health department finds the most deer ticks.
Food Safety, Housing and More
The health department also oversees food safety (and teaches classes on it), housing violations and many other health-related activities. Smith also noted that beehives and monarch butterfly sites can be registered with the state for $10. Registration is helpful, said Smith, because it lets the health department know where beehives and monarch butterflies are located and thus try to avoid these sites when spraying. The transportation of queen bees, said Smith, requires a different license. The county bee warden checks beehives annually to be sure the bees are healthy, said Smith, adding that bee health is seen as a homeland security issue.