By Patrick Hickey –
Worry over the Zika virus has diminished over the summer, with bad jokes about Olympians heading to Brazil the extent of what once was a sweeping fear. But over 50 Georgia counties have no mosquito control services, so an outbreak here could spell trouble in a state where, as anyone who spends much time outside can tell you, the pests are quite prevalent.
The Georgia Mosquito Control Association is perhaps not one of the largest professional organizations in the state, but it has an important job in controlling an insect that has the power to do great harm to Georgians statewide. Said Jeffrey Heusel, the president of the association and director of mosquito control for swampy Chatham County, “We look pitiful here in Georgia. One problem is there are so many counties. There are so many little fiefdoms.”
According to the GMCA, Ae albopictus, one of the mosquito species known to carry the Zika virus, is found in every county of the state. While education is the first line of defense, (get rid of standing water!) in many counties a more rigid system is needed to keep the pests under control.
Chatham County employs a staff of over 30 mosquito control workers and three(!) helicopters to keep down the mosquito population. On the flip-side, the extent of mosquito control in a county like Gwinnett, the state’s second largest, is an irregular larvacide spraying in public parks.
The State Department of Public Health has already recognized the gap in protection, requesting almost $2.5 million from the federal government to step up their mosquito, (and Zika) studies and prevention efforts. Said Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald in a letter to Georgia Congressmen, the state agency has “limited geographic mosquito surveillance and virtually no emergency vector control capabilities.”
Concern over a Zika epidemic may have given way to more public issues like the Black Lives Matter protests, but as you can see from the graph below, Zika is already here in Georgia, (and throughout the country). With gaps in defense from local government, be sure to educate yourself on how to keep mosquito numbers low and keep yourself safe through the hot, wet, dog days of summer.