As the summer approaches and with it the annual onslaught of mosquitoes, some Atlantans are concerned about an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Georgia, but is it something we should be worried about?
One of Jewish Atlanta’s mosquito experts, Matt Brill, co-founder of Mr. Mister mosquito control, talked to the AJT about the virus and its connection to microcephaly in infants born in Brazil and elsewhere.
AJT: So the big question on everyone’s mind here in Georgia: Should we be afraid of Zika and its connection to babies born with birth defects?
Brill: Afraid? Not necessarily. But concerned and aware? Yes. I think we’re going to see an increase in cases as the temperatures go up. We haven’t seen a ton of mosquito activity until the last week. Once that happens, someone can get a travel-related case and come back here. Now there’s a higher chance of getting bitten by a mosquito and that mosquito biting someone else.
AJT: Are people currently trying to have children be the only ones we’re concerned about?
Brill: Well, there’s also a suggestion that Zika could be causing Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a neurological disorder, so there are other things that go along with that. Zika is not just a cold that will go away. No one ever has permanent damage from a cold, whereas some of the associated illnesses with Zika are very permanent. There is cause for concern, but I’m not an alarmist, and we don’t sell fear.
AJT: Should Zika be an even bigger concern because of the Olympics this summer in Rio?
Brill: Well, I just read somewhere that there’s a local U.S. shot-putter who is thinking of not competing in the Olympics this summer because he and his wife are trying to get pregnant. People are worried.
AJT: Will mosquitoes be worse than usual this summer due to the fairly mild winter we had here in Atlanta?
Brill: Mosquitoes’ eggs can survive very harsh winters, so it doesn’t really matter how cold it gets or for how long. If you go to a place like Minnesota, they get a permafrost, and it’s one of the worst mosquito habitats in the world. The temperature in the winter doesn’t really have an effect.
AJT: Atlanta recently got ranked No. 1 in Orkin’s list of worst mosquito cities for the third year in a row. Why are the mosquitoes so bad here?
Brill: In terms of metropolitan cities, Atlanta is terrible. We are a heavily wooded city, and knowing that certain mosquitoes can breed in an upside-down bottle cap, just think about all the places that can hold water in your yard. That’s everything from gutters and drain boxes that are clogged up to even knots in trees. My guys when they’re out treating will throw larvicide in all those areas.
AJT: What can people do this summer to protect themselves from mosquitoes?
Brill: People ask me all the time what the best mosquito repellent is if you want to go outdoors. I don’t like DEET because it’s toxic and it can ruin your gear, but there’s a company called Sawyer that makes a repellent with an active ingredient called picaridin. It has the same effectiveness as DEET, but it’s less toxic.