[Public Health] Mosquitoes Mean Money

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October 16, 2004

Among the most talked-about news stories of the last few years is the spread of West Nile virus throughout the United States. What had once seemed a remote possibility became a frightening threat as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 9,000 cases of the disease in 2003. And while individual risk of infection remains relatively low, most people are now well aware that this potential danger is spread by mosquitoes.

At the PestWorld 2003 conference in Dallas, PCOs from across the country gathered to learn more about their potentially life-saving role in controlling mosquito populations. Adding mosquito control services to existing pest management businesses offers both a public service and an opportunity to increase client base and profits, according to Blaine Oakeson, vector industry manager for Univar USA.

Leading up to the conference, the National Pest Management Association, in cooperation with Univar and Zoecon, offered a series of regional mosquito control workshops in which more than 400 pest management professionals learned about mosquito control products, techniques and marketing. Oakeson led participants in a discussion of "ideas and opportunities to take a pest control company into the vector market."

FOOT IN THE DOOR. As pest control companies field an increasing number of inquiries about mosquito-control programs, it makes sense to participate in government-sponsored mosquito abatement efforts, offer mosquito control to new markets, and use mosquito control to increase services offered to existing clients. "You can do what you always do and make it an add-on business to fulfill your customers’ needs, increase profits and fully utilize business resources, such as your trucks and workers," Oakeson says.

There has been a definite increase in the demand for residential mosquito control services over the past few years. PCOs should consider opportunities to sell these services to homeowners either as an addition to existing pest management programs or in preparation for outdoor parties or weddings. Owners of recreational or resort cabins and representatives of homeowners’ associations are other potential residential customers. Savvy marketers also may approach local catering companies to form partnerships or referral agreements when bidding for outdoor events.

In the commercial market, golf courses are major consumers of pest control services. Oakeson says that while 20 to 30 percent of golf courses already use some type of mosquito control, a portion of those may welcome a bid to move the service to an outside contractor in order to ease course personnel workload. Other golf course managers may be receptive to bids for ongoing services or training programs that would enable course employees to implement a long-term mosquito control program. Additional commercial clients may include zoos and animal parks, outdoor sports facilities, business facilities and warehouses where trucks unload goods at night, resorts, parks, campgrounds, fairgrounds and stables.

Another area in which pest management companies can capitalize on their expertise in mosquito control involves cooperation with local mosquito abatement programs. Oakeson pointed out that cities may receive federal funds for mosquito surveillance and abatement, but understaffed health departments sometimes need assistance in getting such programs off the ground. Smaller municipalities are beginning to organize similar programs, and pest management professionals can assist with training or program implementation. Oakeson recommends that pest management professionals "get to know your local mosquito abatement teams and offer services to help them."

Once a pest management firm has identified its potential markets for mosquito control programs, it’s important to consider the necessary equipment and staffing levels. Some companies have everything except the chemicals necessary for mosquito control while others may need to make initial investments in order to add these services.

DECIDING ON A PROGRAM. Determining which mosquito control methods to offer is another crucial consideration for pest management companies. There are numerous options, but Oakeson suggests that pest management professionals begin by dipping for larvae in order to measure the extent of mosquito infestation in a specific area. Used as a surveillance tool, a water sample teeming with mosquito larvae can convince home-owners or other potential clients to address their mosquito problems without delay. An educated pest management professional also can predict the timing of a mosquito hatch by identifying the larval stage.

Pest control crews can easily incorporate dipping into their regular routine by taking a sample from standing water in an area being treated for other pests. For instance, while visiting a house to provide a regular service, Oakeson suggests that technicians dip for larvae in outside pet watering bowls, garden containers or bird baths, show the customer the results and offer a plan to remedy the situation. "It positions you as a knowledgeable professional," he says.

The secret to successful larvae dipping is to approach the area slowly and quietly, minimizing any disturbance of the water. Because larvae dive to the bottom when the water is disturbed, pest management professionals may need to practice this skill in order to obtain valid samples.

Larvicide is one popular method for controlling mosquito populations, especially in areas where dipping indicates intense mosquito breeding. One option is the use of either monomolecular surface films or larvicide oils, which are applied as a thin coat over the water’s surface, making it impossible for the larvae to breathe. Pest management professionals can also opt to stop larval life cycle by using methoprene, a synthetic hormone, or BTI, a non-toxic bacteria, which both come as briquettes, granules or liquids.

Ultra-low volume fogging or spraying to kill adult mosquitoes is another common approach to mosquito control. Because the chemical components of this treatment generally leave the environment quickly, their short residual period may mean more frequent treatments are needed to control a mosquito population. "Never say you’ll control all the mosquitoes, because you won’t kill 100 percent. Ninety percent is a good target," Oakeson says. Pest management professionals should choose specific chemical agents based on the area to be treated. For instance, some chemicals have an unpleasant odor, which makes them more appropriate for fields than for residential areas.

A final option is the use of barrier treatments, which offer control by spraying long-lasting products around an area’s perimeter, including grass and foliage where adult mosquitoes rest and hide. This method is particularly useful to control mosquitoes in damp areas with abundant vegetation while keeping chemicals away from human contact.

"Companies can offer any one of these treatments or a combination of them, based on their individual business models," Oakeson says.

The author offers marketing and customer service to help customers attract more clients. She can be reached at jvanklaveren@giemedia.com.