FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA —
Four years ago, the mosquitoes around Virginia resident Stephanie Sample’s house and neighborhood were voracious.
“They would get into the car and before you could shut the car doors," Sample says. "We would be driving and getting bitten by mosquitoes.”
So she hired the Mosquito Squad to spray her yard. Damien Sanchez, who owns the pest control company, says the chemical spray not only kills mosquitoes, but has a long-term repellent effect as well.
Since he started his company five years ago, Sanchez says the demand for his services has increased considerably, especially this year.
Aided by a mild winter and rainy spring, West Nile disease has been confirmed in 48 U.S. states.
"Sales-wise, we’ve increased sales 10 times,” Sanchez says.
That doesn’t surprise mosquito expert Jorges Arias, a supervisor at the Fairfax County Health Department in Virginia.
“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] has reported over 3,100 cases in the U.S.," Arias says. "We have had over 130 fatalities so far.”
Most people infected with West Nile have no symptoms and recover completely. About 20 percent get headaches, muscle pain and fever.
“Then a percentage of that 20 percent could develop what we call neuroinvasive disease, it's either encephalitis or meningitis," Arias says. "Then these are much more serious. These people can go into coma. Then there is a certain percentage of these people that do die.”
The entomologist speaks from experience. Arias contracted West Nile last year and was in a coma for six days. He came out of it with a neurological problem: he couldn’t sit up or walk.
“I received therapy for six months and then it took me four months to be able to walk again," he says, "and I’m here walking.”
Arias believes raising awareness about the disease is essential to preventing it. His office prepares and distributes dozens of publications showing people how to protect themselves and their family from West Nile.
“Wear an insect repellent. Wear long, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, because mosquitoes like dark clothing," he says. "Eliminate anything with water around your house. If you can’t eliminate it, treat it.”
That's because mosquitoes breed in standing water. And that means the mosquito control industry will likely stay very busy as the threat of West Nile Disease in the United States continues.