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The Under-the-Radar Health Risk This Summer: More Mosquitoes

21 Jun, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Here’s a health risk nobody’s really talking about right now: the mosquito population is up. And that means that no matter how far apart spectators sit in order to follow correct social distancing protocols, it’s likely they’ll be bitten anyway. And while skeeters can't transmit coronavirus, they can still make outdoor events a misery - and outdoor events are all that is allowed in certain sectors.

According to SNews, above normal temperatures and precipitation this year are to blame for the uptick. Which means event owners should stock up on bug repellent – as well as hand sanitizer.

Amid ongoing concerns around the growing COVID-19 pandemic, more people are spending time in private backyards, patios or decks, local public parks, or private balconies, according to a recent survey conducted by Thermacell® Repellents, Inc. The survey revealed that nearly half (48 percent) of Americans surveyed indicated they are spending more or significantly more time outdoors, and that 77 percent reported having mosquitoes interrupt an outdoor activity.

"When it comes to predicting mosquito population, temperature and rainfall are two major predictors," said John Hainze, Ph.D., and president of BioOpus, LLC. "This year's warmer temperatures and increased rainfall created the perfect recipe for mosquitoes to get a head start on breeding."

With scientists forecasting increased summer heat and moisture in certain regions, Hainze believes most of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River will see the mosquito population thrive and rapidly expand.

SDM first covered the issue back in 2016, when the Zika virus was a big health concern and organizers of summer sports events (particularly those in areas with a strong mosquito population) were considering strategies like the services of companies that use barrier sprays or timed-release pesticide misting systems as a way of not only making bugs back off, but putting attendees’ minds at ease. 

Some companies had been actively marketing themselves as a pest solution for Little League events. However, the question always comes up: are those systems, the ones that are being marketed so heavily to managers of outdoor events, actually recommended for widespread use? Will they gain a foothold in sports? And if they do, what are the risks?

Even the pest control industry is treading carefully on this one. The American Mosquito Control Association, the scientific/educational group that has been overseeing mosquito issues since 1937 (long before Zika came into popular knowledge) has noted its concerns on both the efficacy and safety of the time-release misting systems popularly in use in both residential and commercial properties. AMCA’s concerns about unnecessary pesticide use and risks to people from exposure to chemicals are chief among those concerns.

As early as 2012, Connecticut and New York passed laws severely restricting synthetic pesticide use on school grounds. Many other states and municipalities followed, making the use of specific pesticides, or types of pesticides, illegal on property (including sports facilities) on the grounds of schools in those areas.

But school sports facilities are only one type being used. Many other sports venues are situated near, or in, areas where there are schools, neighborhoods, businesses and more. Some abut wildlife or nature refuges. There is significant potential for impact upon what is known as these ‘non-target’ areas through uncontrolled drift, or through runoff.

The AMCA notes that many commercial mosquito control systems advertise the fact that they use synthetic forms of pyrethrins called pyrethroids. Pyrethrins are the natural byproduct of the Chrysanthemum flower. Synthetic pyrethroids have a similar chemical structure as the pyrethrins, and are used in commercial products such as household insecticides, pet shampoos and sprays. However, the AMCA states, “such products bear the signal word ‘Caution’ on the label, and the precautionary statements indicate that they may be harmful if inhaled. Labels also advise that pets and birds be removed and aquaria covered before spraying.”

In other words, this may be satisfactory for the area being sprayed, but does not guarantee the safety of the area nearby that will get the spray but not the warning.

The potential impact on athletes of the various ‘all-natural’ chemicals is also unknown. But more importantly, will mosquito control systems (either those that tout their all-natural approach or those who don’t) have long-term health ramifications for athletes? What about for spectators, officials and others?

All things considered, many outdoor sports facilities may want to allow concessionaires and souvenir suppliers to begin selling plain old drugstore-grade mosquito repellant. In addition to being a less worrisome alternative, it might be an unexpected revenue stream.

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