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Zika fears boosting business for mosquito spraying companies

Local company Mosquito Joe says business has more than doubled this year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Gov. Rick Scott continues to push the federal government for Zika response funding, local mosquito control companies have seen an increase in customers looking to be proactive in the face of uncertainty.

One company, Mosquito Joe, said its business is expected to more than double this year.

The company was started in 2015, and the owner said he got into the business because he saw a big need in Jacksonville for mosquito control.

He said with the fear of the Zika virus growing, people living in areas prone to mosquitoes, including near creeks and other standing water, have been calling him looking for a solution.

“Mosquito Joe are not experts in the Zika virus,” company president Christopher Phillips said. “We are emphasizing the best way to avoid Zika is to not get bitten to begin with, so that's why we try and do the mosquito spraying."

Mosquito control experts across the state said rain from Tropical Storm Colin will complicate control efforts.

“In particular, the Zika mosquitoes are container breeders and day biters, so all the containers that have been empty for the last few weeks will now start to fill up,” Leon County Mosquito Control Director Glen Pourciau said.

READ: Mosquito bite protection in Florida

About two dozen counties were mentioned a letter from Scott to President Barack Obama, seeking specific funding to fight Zika. The ask includes money for public outreach, insecticide, spraying equipment and protective clothing.

In the meantime, many residents, like Tom Goodrich, are having companies like Mosquito Joe spray their properties.

"With the Zika fear going on, it's just added benefit of knowing that that many less mosquito bites are occurring,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich has been a Mosquito Joe customer for three months and said it's worth every penny. He said he noticed a big difference while doing yard work.

"Anything to curtail the population of mosquitoes is going to benefit anyone,” Goodrich said.

Phillips said he's had to hire more technicians because of demand. He said women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant have been his newest clientele. The business went from 250 customers last year to between 500 and 600 this year.

"I think it's better to be prepared in advance to help prevent it. Prevention is much better than treating the problem afterward,” Phillips said. “Because if we do get any locally transmitted cases, it could spread rapidly, so it's best to be on top of it right from the start."

Experts with the Department of Health said the simplest way to fight the type of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus is to get rid of standing water.

Mosquitoes can breed in as little as a teaspoon or bottle cap of water that’s left standing for a week.

The mosquitoes live and die within about 200 yards of where they hatch.

The Health Department released a list of tips for eliminating mosquito breeding sites:

  • Clean out troughs and gutters
  • Remove old tires or drill holes in those used in playgrounds to drain
  • Turn over or remove empty plastic pots
  • Pick up all beverage containers and cups
  • Check tarps on boats or other equipment that may collect water
  • Replace water in birdbaths and pet or other animal feeding dishes at least once a week
  • Change water in plant trays, including hanging plants, at least once a week
  • Remove vegetation or obstructions in drainage ditches that prevent the flow of water.

Funding requests suggest it is about twice as expensive to remove a Zika threat after an infection as it is to take preventive action beforehand.

Duval County sprays on a case-by-case basis if a customer calls in and expresses a concern.

Mosquito Control personnel investigate the area of the complaint to see if it needs to be sprayed. The city department also does research in different areas of the county and collects data to determine if the areas need to be sprayed.

The areas that need it are then sprayed from a truck at ground level.

The city keeps a list online of the areas that have been sprayed in the last week.

Sometimes the city also does aerial spraying, but the city doesn't have any aerial applications scheduled now.

Mosquito Joe said the properties it sprays must be treated every there weeks, and the price depends on the size of the property. Mosquito Joe charges $45 for a small property or $110 for an acre.

The price also depends on the amount of foliage in the yard.

For more information, visit http://firstcoast.mosquitojoe.com.

For more information on mosquito-borne illness prevention, visit floridahealth.gov.