Mosquito season is upon us, and Metro Health is asking residents to help reduce the mosquito population, which begins with limiting the insect’s breeding grounds.

Viruses such as Zika, chikungnuya, and dengue are transmitted through mosquitoes, which lay their eggs on the walls of any available water-filled containers. The eggs remain stuck to the container walls until they are scrubbed off and can survive even when they dry out for up to eight months. When water covers the eggs, they hatch and become adults within a week.

After recent rainfalls, the city’s Metropolitan Health District is treating and removing standing water on public properties and is asking city residents to follow their lead at home.

Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger told the Rivard Report that the city believes that the most effective way to control the mosquito population is to control it at the larval level.

“The bulk of our work is putting [out] larvicides and preventing the babies from growing up into adults who bite people,” Bridger said. Only adult mosquitos can transmit disease.

Metro Health also works applying pesticides to stagnant water, and fogging or spraying to eliminate all possible breeding habits.

To prevent mosquitoes that may get inside dwellings from laying eggs, residents should once a week empty, scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out containers that hold water such as pet water dishes, vases, and flowerpot saucers.

Outside, Metro Health suggests paying close attention to trash cans, pool covers, birdbaths, plant pots, and discarded tires – all of which can collect water – to help reduce potential breeding areas for mosquitoes.

If water must be stored, as in rain barrels, it is important to do so safely by enclosing the water in a tightly sealed container. This prevents mosquitoes from getting inside and laying eggs.

Improving sanitation, which includes removing contaminants such as animal waste, grasses, and leaves, helps to minimize the chance for mosquito larvae to feed and survive.

On April 1, the City Council accepted a $700,000 grant focusing on Zika preparation and response. One part of the grant pays for free mosquito dunks that kill mosquito larvae to be given to low-income, pregnant women at WIC clinics and through the City’s Healthy Start Program.

The bulk of the funding will go towards hiring environmental health specialists, educating the community, identifying areas where there are mosquito populations, and enhancing lab capabilities for Zika testing.

In 2012 San Antonio experienced its first and only Zika diagnosis. The virus was contracted abroad, Bridger said.

“Our understanding [of Zika] has matured over the course of a year, so the focus of community engagement this time around will be on talking about how to reduce the risk of transmission,” Bridger said.

Previous Zika education efforts focused on basic community education about the disease, what it is, and where it came from. Metro Health’s current efforts towards mosquito eradication are to eliminate potential for local transmission.

Eliminating any potential risk of being bitten by a mosquito is the most effective action to take on both a community and individual level.

To protect yourself against mosquitoes, minimize their access to skin. Metro Health recommends avoiding perfume or cologne when outdoors and wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

When using an insect repellent, do not spray it in enclosed areas, directly on your face, or near any cuts, wounds, or irritated skin. Spray the repellent directly onto your clothing as mosquitos can bite through fabric.

The more DEET or Picaridin a repellent contains, the longer it can protect you. However, insect repellent should not be used on young infants.

A number of local companies throughout Bexar County install customized, automated pesticide misting systems throughout backyards and outdoor spaces, utilizing environmentally friendly, biodegradable treatment options.

These systems work on a timer, spraying a gentle mist of repellent several times a day for 45 seconds each time. Because mosquitoes reproduce quickly, consistent and frequent treatment are recommended for heavily affected areas.

The City does not treat private property for mosquitoes. If you notice a mosquito problem in a public space within Bexar County, call 3-1-1 to report the problem.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.