Every year since 1999 when West Nile virus was first found in our area, Rockland has been aggressive about mosquito control. This year is no different. But the stakes are even higher.As we all know, the Zika virus has become a worldwide public health concern. The virus is spread by mosquitoes.
The main type of mosquitoes that have caused death and illness from Zika in Central and South America are the Aedes aegypti.
Good news: we do not have Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in this area. Not so good news: Zika virus can also be spread by another kind of mosquito, Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito. Aedes albopictus mosquitos are found in Rockland County and six other counties in New York.
There is still a lot that scientists do not know about Zika and how it is spread. We don’t know if the Asian tiger mosquitoes in Rockland will be infected with Zika virus this summer. Most cases of Zika are mild. But the virus has been linked to birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected.
Rockland is one of seven counties in New York where the state Department of Health has ordered additional trapping of Aedes albopictus so samples can be tested for Zika at the Wadsworth state laboratory. The New York state Department of Health has provided us with 23 traps specially designed to trap mosquitoes. We will be placing these traps at sites throughout Rockland, alongside the mosquito traps we have used for years to track the West Nile virus. Rockland is also among 10 counties in New York that have been asked by the state to develop a Zika action plan, which we have done.
And once again this summer, we will be ready for whatever comes our way. We have budgeted half a million dollars for mosquito control. Our health department has a mosquito control program that has been perfected over the past 16 years and looked upon as a model for the state.
We know when to put larvicide into 20,000 catch basins in the county and we know where the swampy areas are that need to be treated with larvicide. We provide mosquito dunks and mosquito-eating fish for residents to use at their homes. We have conducted extensive public health outreach campaigns to teach residents what steps they can take to protect themselves from mosquitoes.
We are doing our part to make Rockland County as inhospitable to mosquitoes as we can.
But we, the county, cannot do it alone. Our health department cannot do it alone.
Yes, today is a call to action to our community.
Property owners have to take care of their own homes. They have to remove all the places where water can collect because that is where mosquitoes breed.
We are appealing to every Rockland resident to take a walk around their home. Do you see an empty flower pot? What about a wheelbarrow or an old tire? Even an empty soda can or bottle cap?
These are all places water can collect. And wherever you see standing water, you can get mosquito breeding.
Please, take this opportunity to walk your property and remove places where water can collect. Get rid of the old tires, throw out the empty flower pot and soda can and bottle cap. Turn over the wheelbarrow so water doesn’t fill up inside. Do this now and do it regularly during the warmer months when mosquitoes are active.
These simple actions will go a long way toward reducing the risk from mosquitoes.
If you have questions about mosquito control or concerns about mosquito breeding, reach out to our health department.
Why is this important to all Rocklanders? Yes, the most serious risk is to pregnant woman, as their babies can be seriously compromised and brain damaged. But well beyond the common perceptions, consider a visiting male family member or friend who heads home infected with the virus. That bite from a Zika infested mosquito can go unnoticed and he can be asymptomatic. Zika stays in bodily fluids including blood, urine and in semen, for at least a month. That person now can infect someone else. Think of the damage that can be unwittingly caused.
Let’s work together to prevent that scenario. With your help we can reduce the threat from mosquitoes and protect those children.
Remember: we learned to manage the threat from West Nile.
We’re prepared for whatever this summer brings.
And remember, as a community we are in this together.