Beware the skeeters Charleston County spraying for mosquitoes, but need our help

Charleston County Mosquito Control Division employee Andy Ackerman (left) sprays for mosquitoes as Tetron Ladson looks for larvae in standing water in a field off Bowens Island Road on James Island.

Brad Nettles

What weighs less than a paperclip and causes more worldwide casualties annually than the whole Civil War?

It’s the skeeters.

The Charleston County government is participating in the American Mosquito Control Association’s “Mosquito Awareness Week” June 23-29 by informing people how to put these pests to rest.

Mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of nearly a million people worldwide from malaria, according to the World Health Organization. In 2012, the U.S. experienced the worst year of mosquito-borne West Nile virus on record, with a death toll of 286 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the heavy rainfall in an abnormally wet summer, Charleston County Mosquito Control Superintendent Donna Odom said she is looking to residents to join the effort to help stop a mosquito infestation.

“We take care of the large areas,” she said, “and that’s where we ask citizens to take care of their property.”

Charleston has seen 33.20 inches of precipitation so far this year; a normal year to this date would have seen 19.86 inches.

And National Weather Service of Charleston meteorologist Brett Cimbora said more rainfall is expected in the next week. “For the next three days, we can see another 1 to 3 inches of rain mostly along the coast,” Cimbora said.

The next seven days are expected to bring a total of 4 inches locally.

Charleston County announced Thursday that aerial sprayings are starting. Residents should expect to see low-flying planes after any major weather event until November between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The crucial thing that Odom asks people to do is eliminate any standing water on their property.

Odom said mosquitoes can breed in the tiniest collections of water, even in the cup of a magnolia leaf.

“Kiddie pools tend to be a big breeding ground when not used,” Odom said.

For those with bird baths, pet dishes or any other constant water collection, it is recommended to flush the water out every four to seven days.

People who may be adversely affected by pesticides, such as beekeepers and organic farmers, are asked to contact county mosquito control units for notice of ground and aerial pesticide spraying schedules.

A list of Charleston County areas to be sprayed is updated daily on the mosquito program website.

Clemson entomology Prof. Geoff Zehnder, who coordinates the campus’ integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture programs, said that spraying could, but likely would not, affect organic farming.

“Theoretically, if there was some spraying in the area and it carried over, you could lose your (organic) certification,” Zehnder said. “Hopefully those organic fields would not be in close proximity to where they are spraying.”

To receive organic certification, farmers must avoid synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides.

Limiting drift, Zehnder said, prevents most problems for farmers.

“I don’t think they would be spraying on a windy day,” he said. “So hopefully, the wind drift wouldn’t be a factor.”

Odom said this concern is taken into consideration.

“We actually avoid aerial spray and ground spray around organic farming,” Odom said.

Beekeeper Larry Sexton, who also serves as the Charleston regional representative to the S.C. Beekeepers Association, said spraying has not caused any problem for his hives.

“They call me every time they have a spraying going on,” Sexton said. “I don’t seem to have any problems with (the sprayings).”

Odom said she has a call list for beekeepers and others affected by pesticides to let them know when they will be in the area.

Mike Hood, Clemson entomology professor and bee expert, said mosquito abatement programs have cooperated well to protect hives due to their essential pollination powers.

In the Charleston area, honeybee populations have increased, Hood said, with more beekeepers.

“To be quite honest, the Charleston Area Beekeepers Association has done a good job training new beekeepers,” Hood said.

Reach Nick Watson at 937-4810.