The Zika virus has the planet on alert — and the industry is trying to pitch in.
The World Health Organization recently declared the disease to be a global health emergency because it has no cure and is spreading at an alarming rate. It first surfaced in Latin America, but now the U.S. is affected, with more than 300 confirmed Zika cases in 34 states to date. These have been travel-related so far, but carriers such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito have been seen from Maryland to California, and the chances of homegrown cases grow more real by the day.
While the disease can be transmitted sexually, most often it is passed on through mosquito bites. Most at risk are unborn children whose mothers were bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus, which frequently causes severe birth defects.
Because mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water, the pool industry is concerned, and many companies are educating customers about ways to stay safe. For instance, Andrew Bari is promoting a program offered by his local Rockland County, N. Y., where the health department offers a free mosquito control product to pool owners.
“Mosquitoes are more than an annoying pest,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, Rockland County health commissioner, in a statement. “They can carry several diseases, including West Nile virus and dog heartworm. There is a small risk that the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which we have in Rockland, may be able to carry and spread the Zika virus.”
Mosquito Dunks, a donut-shaped product, floats on standing water and, as it dissolves, releases bacteria toxic to all mosquito larvae. It will not harm humans or animals, and each unit treats 100 square feet of water surface and lasts 30 days.
Bari, co-owner of Westrock Pools & Spas in Nanuet, N.Y., went further. He bought 10 cases of the product so his service department can deliver it to customers.
“We’ll buy more if necessary,” Bari said. “If they have ponds … or if their pool covers have standing water on them and the pool will not be opened until late May or June, we offer it to them.”
As many as 100 of his customers have taken advantage of the offer.
Health agencies in other states have encouraged use of larvicides as well. For example, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County (Tenn.) Health Department is urging residents to eliminate standing water, and to use products like Mosquito Dunks or a similar item, Mosquito Torpedoes, in vessels that can’t be easily emptied, such as pools, ponds, bird baths and the like. Similar advice is being disseminated by the Texas State Health Services Department and the Georgia Public Health Department.
Meanwhile, officials in Kershaw County (S.C.), have instituted a program similar to Rockland County’s, offering free Mosquito Dunks to all county households and businesses.
This isn’t the first mosquito-borne disease to cause concern. Every year certain communities must work vigilantly to prevent the spread of the West Nile virus, as well as yellow and dengue fevers. The fear grows greater during crises that are accompanied by high foreclosure rates, such as the Great Recession, during which thousands of pools were abandoned and left with stagnant water.
Mosquito season runs from May through September.