The Zika virus is the latest in an alarming parade of tropical diseases to show up in the U.S., and it has the potential to spread like wildfire. Naturally, news of the virus has spread even faster than the disease itself. Chances are you will be approached by tenants and building employees wondering what is being done to safeguard them from the Zika virus.
What is the Zika virus?
Like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever, the Zika virus is a disease-causing organism spread primarily through infected mosquitoes. Specifically, it is carried by Aedes species mosquitoes (A. aegypti and A. albopictus) introduced to the New World from Africa. Zika virus typically causes a mild disease. Only about one in five people exposed to the virus actually develops symptoms. These include fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis and headache, and typically last for only about a week.
Zika has a dark side, though. A small number of Zika infections are associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease of the nervous system. Even worse, when contracted in pregnancy, the Zika virus can cause miscarriage and serious birth defects, most notably microcephaly—a terrible condition in which the infant’s head and brain are severely underdeveloped.
Why should the Zika virus concern you as a property manager?
To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported confirmed Zika cases in 43 of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Because of the disease’s potentially devastating complications and its capacity to spread, the CDC has responded with a Level 1 activation response of the Emergency Operations Center along with a nationwide summit and action plan.
Property managers can play an important role in the fight to contain the Zika virus, according to Dr. Joe Alton, New York Times best-selling author of the Ebola Survival Handbook, The Survival Medicine Handbook and author of the upcoming Zika Virus Handbook.
"The way to control Zika virus is to decrease the population of Aedes mosquitoes in the area,” Alton says. “This is accomplished by what we call ‘source reduction.’ Your goal is to eliminate as much standing water as possible on and near your property.”
Damien Sanchez, owner of DC Mosquito Squad, one of the largest niche pest control companies in the U.S., agrees. “Mosquitoes seek out standing water for laying eggs. Property managers should be vigilant in surveying their property for standing water,” he says. “Just a small thimble-full amount of standing water can become an ideal breeding site for mosquitoes.”
How to Zika-proof your property
To reduce the chances of the Zika virus affecting your tenants and building employees—especially if you are located in an area within the potential range of Aedes mosquitoes —consider taking the following steps to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds:
· Cover rain barrels with a screen or other barrier
· Keep garbage cans covered with lids
· Drain water from tarps or other protective sheeting
· Cover buckets, flower pots and other containers that might accumulate water
· Unclog rain gutters that might not be draining well
· Repair any leaky outdoor faucets or sprinkler heads
· Avoid excessive watering of lawns and plants near the building
· Add topsoil to uneven areas of the property that might accumulate rainwater
· Pick up and dispose of unused containers such as empty buckets and plastic bottles
· Keep rain gutters and storm drains clean and flowing freely
· Change water in birdbaths every three-to-four days
· Keep swimming pools and hot tubs clean and chlorinated
· Trim and maintain your lawns and shrubbery
Property managers can also use Mosquito Dunks—small tablets that release Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), a bacteria that kills mosquito larvae. BTI is harmless to humans, plants and animals.
In addition, implement the following measures to protect your tenants and employees:
· Educate them about the Zika virus and its prevention by providing statistics and updates issued by the CDC
· Install or repair tightly fitting window and door screens. Use U.S. #16 or #18 mesh
· Use mosquito traps and repellents throughout your property
· Encourage your tenants to use personal insect repellents
· Consider hiring a pest control company to provide integrated pest management techniques on your property
Keeping Zika in perspective
Finally, it’s important to remember that, so far, the Zika virus is only a potential epidemic in the U.S., not a real one. To date, every confirmed case of Zika disease in the country has been traced to exposure outside the U.S. By remaining vigilant and putting the above mosquito control measures into action, we can work to keep it that way.
Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer with expertise in areas including construction, small business management and sustainability (www.thegreeninkwell.com).
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