MCT graphic by Laurie McAdam
PROTECTION: Mosquitoes are not a big problem in Bermuda but space sprays and repellent will help to keep you bite-free.
MCT graphic by Laurie McAdam PROTECTION: Mosquitoes are not a big problem in Bermuda but space sprays and repellent will help to keep you bite-free.

July is Mosquito Awareness Month but in Bermuda you could be forgiven for asking, “What mosquitoes?”

The island has one of the most proactive prevention programmes in the world and bites are rare fo residents.

Armell Thomas, the man in charge of keeping the mosquito at bay, told the Bermuda Sun: “Bermuda is unique in terms of our people and culture, and also when it comes to vector control — especially mosquito control.

“We have one of the best control systems in the world, something many people have tried to duplicate.”

The size of Bermuda is also an advantage in keeping the tiny bloodsuckers under control.

Deterrent

“Because the island is only 21 square miles in size, it is just the right size to capture and handle any mosquitoes,” said Mr Thomas.

“In Bermuda we are not considered a Third World country. Mosquitoes are a bigger problem in some of the Caribbean islands which are a little less developed and which don’t have screens on their windows.”

Mr Thomas, programme manager for Vector Control/Port Health, said the Government of Bermuda also placed an emphasis on education.

“We educate the public constantly; my team go into all the schools and speak to the children,” he said.

The main weapon however, in deterring any outbreaks is the 600 or so ovi-traps placed around the island.

The traps contain stagnant water and ‘paddles’, on which female mosquitoes lay their eggs.

Each week, Mr Thomas’ team go around collecting the paddles from inside the traps in order to remove them from the water.

Mr Thomas said: “These traps are 12 ounce cups which are very dark and filled halfway with water. The paddles placed inside create an environment for the mosquitoes to grow.

“Once we take the paddles out we can see what kind of mosquito is present,  from their eggs. And once they are removed from the water, the eggs will die.

“We do this every week to prevent the eggs from hatching. We change the ovi-trap system every Friday throughout the island.

“We can have up to 60 traps in each parish.”

Success in deterring mosquito outbreaks is down to being proactive rather than reactive, said Mr Thomas.

“We don’t wait for people to complain about getting mosquito bites, we seek out these pests.

“But if we have a serious outbreak, with a number of different eggs on a paddle, then we will bring in a team and go from house to house, asking people to get rid of any standing water.”

The Vector Control team are mainly concerned about the presence of aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito which carries dengue fever.

“This is very dangerous and so we try to ensure it is not breeding in Bermuda,” said Mr Thomas.

“However, the last time we found an example of it was in 1998 in Pembroke. We have not come across it since.

“The ovi-trap system lets us see what’s coming here, and how many eggs are growing in each particular area.”

In addition to the weekly checks, the team of 20 staff will “comb the whole island” once a year, said Mr Thomas.

They look for areas of potential problems, such as standing water and bromeliad plants, which hold rainwater.

“These plants hold a lot of water in the stem and so mosquitoes breed inside them,” said Mr Thomas.

“We drill holes in the bottom of the plants so that if it rains, the water will then just then drain out.

“We also try to get the public to keep their properties free of any outside containers that may hold water, such as buckets, old tyres and plant pots.

“Even a discarded (cardboard) chip bag will collect water and can then cause issues, so that’s another reason why people shouldn’t litter.”

He said: “A homeowner can take the following steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

“Dispose of outside plastic sheeting, containers, buckets and anything that holds water.

“Don’t let water accumulate in your plant pots for more than two days.

“Clean rain gutters of debris and remove any standing water in and around flat roofs and faucets. Also check for any leaks.

“You should also change your bird bath, wading pool or ornamental pool water once a week, and drain puddles in swampy areas.

“Without water, mosquitoes can’t survive.”

Mr Thomas said his team avoids using chemical sprays due to Bermuda’s system of harvesting rainwater from roofs and down into water tanks.

“We do have an insecticide we can use if there is an outbreak but I keep it in my ‘backpocket’ as a last resort,” he said.

“Bermuda is unique in our prevention methods; that’s why we don’t do too much spraying,” he said.

“We will only spray in certain areas, such as at a marsh, because of protecting local wildlife such as the tree frogs and to avoid chemicals from getting into people’s water tanks.

“We are very eco-conscious and also have to avoid the possibility of any chemicals reaching the ocean. But the key to mosquito control is to seek and destroy, using traps. We try to eradicate the mosquito at the larvae stage.”

The five species of mosquito found in Bermuda are: The aedes aegypti; the aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian or tiger mosquito; the culex, or house mosquito — the most common variety; the eastern salt marsh mosquito; and the black salt marsh mosquito.

Only a female mosquito will bite, as she needs blood to provide the nutrients for her eggs. Mosquitoes will target animals first, followed by humans, said Mr Thomas.

“There are 2,500 different species of mosquito around the world and in Bermuda we have five of them. You can tell which type they are from their bites.”

If you do get bitten, Mr Thomas recommends applying baby oil or alcohol to the area to remove the itch.

“There are all sorts of different products you can apply,” he added.

Mosquito sprays and repellents are available at pharmacies, grocery and hardware stores across the island.

“You can use space sprays to kill mosquitoes or repellents to prevent bites, and several products are effective,” said Mr Thomas.

“All the insect repellents have to have an active ingredient, such as citronella oil, or you can try Avon (Skin-So-Soft) lotion.

“If anyone has a water fountain at home, I also have some Aquataine I can give you to help to kill off any mosquitoes.

“This is an oil-based product which spreads across the water, and it is safe for pets and children.”

 

For more information contact Vector Control on 278-5397.