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Fighting mosquitoes and ticks one yard at a time

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Peter Daley, of Belfast, treats a yard for mosquitoes and ticks in Brewer on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Such treatments help keep pests down and reduces the risk of Lyme Disease for homeowners and their pets. Peter Daley, of Belfast, treats a yard for mosquitoes and ticks in Brewer on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Such treatments help keep pests down and reduces the risk of Lyme Disease for homeowners and their pets. (edge photo by Mike Fern)

Local firm helps homeowners and businesses with outdoor pest control

BREWER If you've been to the hardware store recently, you've likely seen the wealth of outdoor products dedicated to maintaining a pest-free yard. Everything from bug zappers and mosquito traps to repellants and citronella lamps beckon to those who have had endured the nasty welts that often occur from simply sitting outside on the deck during those critical sunset hours when mosquitoes are most active.

Yet the nation's attention to nature's little bloodsucking pest that has caused scourges of everything from Malaria to yellow fever over the centuries earning it the distinction as one of the deadliest animal species in the world has grown in recent years with the discovery of the West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Triple-E) viruses.

And now you can add Zika to that list.

First reported in Africa in 1954, the virus that causes microcephaly birth defects in unborn children has spread steadily across the Pacific to Central and South American countries like Brazil. The disease is particularly alarming since it is spread not only by mosquitoes but also through human sexual contact. Its emergence in the U.S. has been mostly from travelers abroad, yet it has gained footholds in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and America Samoa with 1,700 cases now reported across the nation.

In the continental U.S., there have been nearly 600 cases of the virus reported by such travelers. In Maine, that tally stands at five as of two weeks ago, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. Although the risk to Mainers is actually low the particular type of mosquito that carries the virus is not found in Maine the way it is spread, the lack of symptoms in 80 percent of all cases and the lasting impact it has on pregnant mothers has caused it to move up the ladder in diseases tracked by the U.S. CDC.

And while the risk in Maine is minimal, other types of mosquitoes and the venerable blackfly continue to plague Mainers, and one firm has taken to battling the insects where they bother people the most right in their back yard.

Mosquito Terminators, a nationwide pest firm based in Pittsburgh, Pa., has been in the business of ridding homeowners of the biting insects for years and recently opened a franchise in Belfast. Peter Daley, the local franchise owner, said he's been steadily increasing business as new fears of Zika add to an already impressive list of diseases that mosquitoes are responsible for. For him, the concept of controlling mosquitoes hearkens back to the mass control efforts many states and towns used to employ decades ago.

'When I was a boy, there was either a town or a state truck and it would have a huge tank on it and there would be a guy driving and a guy spraying into the woods,' Daley said. 'As they drove past your property, they would spray over you if you sat there. They were just spraying everything.'

Daley said the demise of such mass control efforts, which many states and municipalities ended after its main component, DDT, was found harmful to natural wildlife, has not abated the need for outdoor pest control. And despite the viruses that mosquitoes are known to carry, it's a relatively easy insect to keep under control.

'It's a weak creature. It's easy to kill,' he said of mosquitoes. 'They're not strong fliers, and they don't fly long distance. If they're in your yard and we kill them, and you're not getting them from a swamp nearby or something, you should be in good shape for two weeks.'

Since mosquitos can migrate from other places, firms such as Daley's can't guarantee 100 percent of them will be exterminated over the two-week course of his treatment. Called a barrier spray that is similar to lawn services, his firm will apply insecticides over a property owner's area that kills live mosquitoes and prevents others from entering the so-called kill zone for about two weeks until another application is necessary. Blackflies, on the other hand, can travel up to 10 miles and are much harder to kill.

And while Daley's firm does use traditional pesticides when appropriate or requested, he prefers using natural-based products that are less impactful on the environment. He said today's alternatives are much eco-friendlier, with many of Daley's products being effective on both airborne and ground-based insects that cause Mainers much concern, including ticks.

'The vast majority of people who call me are calling about ticks,' he said. 'The ticks are really big in Maine right now.'

Diseases such as West Nile, Zika, Triple-E and Lyme are classified as vector-borne diseases, joining a list of others like Malaria and Yellow Fever that require a third-party in this case an insect to introduce the bacteria or virus to a host. Other than the more recent entrants of West Nile and Zika, many of the longstanding mosquito-borne diseases have been held at bay.

Lyme disease, however, has grown across the state the past few years. Caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, the disease is a vector-borne illness carried in deer ticks and is usually transmitted to humans if an infected deer tick is not discovered and removed within 24 hours.

In fact, according the Maine Center for Disease Control, reported cases of the tick-borne illness dipped in 2015. Still, Maine has averaged over 92 cases per 100,000 people over the past five years, outpacing other New England states where the disease has been prevalent much longer after it was first discovered in Connecticut in 1977 and its cause finally identified six years later.

'There's so much documentation about the ticks right now that it's very clear that we're having an epidemic of that,' Daley said. 'That obviously has been good for business.'

Daley mentioned that the application his firm conducts includes both trees and ground cover, since the intent is to kill both mosquitoes and ticks that can cause a homeowner harm.

'When I'm spraying, I'm spraying the ground and up into the trees,' he said. 'We want to hit the bottom of the leaves, not the top.'

Addressing the concerns of pollinating insects, Daley avoids such pollination hotspots like blooming flowers at all costs and makes sure he takes into account drainage areas and wind drift as both can carry insecticide farther than its intended target. In the end though, his target is both mosquitoes and ticks, which he sees as more of a problem afflicting Mainers.

'We keep hearing about more diseases that the mosquitos carry. When scientists talk about Triple-E or West Nile or Zika, somewhere there's an epidemic and somebody from that area travels up here. It shouldn't be a big worry to Mainers,' he said. 'The reality is the average mosquito in Maine is probably not going to give you these diseases.'

For more information about Mosquitoes Terminators, visit their website at www.mosquitoterminators.com.

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