The Importance of Communication

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Original Article written by Dr Michael Waldvogel, edited by Minda Daughtry

Barely a day goes by when Zika virus is not in the news headlines. As of August 31st 2016, the CDC has reported2,717 confirmed case of Zika virus in the U.S. New York was #1 with 625 cases (all travel-related, not acquired in the U.S.). Florida ranked #2 with 507 travel-related cases and is the onlystate with locally acquired mosquito-transmitted (30) cases virus of Zika. NC remained at #13 with 48 travel-related cases, andzero cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus.

You may have read about the recent aerial spraying for mosquitoes in SC that resulted in death of reportedly 3 million bees in a commercial bee yard. This has led to a lot of people asking about whether this could happen in NC. and the tragic incident serves as a learning experience about the importance of communication.

NC has not used aerial spraying for mosquitoes in years (although that does not mean that individual municipalities or even private citizens have not done so). The standard practice was that before any aerial spraying took place, efforts were made to:

  1. Determine where spraying was actually needed
  2. Identify the location of hives and to contact beekeepers in the area. In some cases, hives were moved or covered during the actual spray operations.

Obviously, this system is not perfect because it relies on communication and cooperation among the state agencies planning the spraying and the beekeepers, organic crop producers, other groups, and the public in general. Key to this dialog is knowing the real-time location of beehives and apiaries, and the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services has a voluntary apiary registration program for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, despite having the largest number of beekeepers in the nation, only a small number of beekeepers use this service.

As sometimes happens, there are some seeming contradictions in the facts presented in various media coverage. For example, CNN’s web summary of the incident reported that the county sprayed for Zika after “four local residents were diagnosed with the virus.” This would lead you to conclude that the situation was similar to what we see in South Florida. However, if you read the Washington Post version, those cases were simply local residents confirmed with the virus which they acquired as a result of travel to known Zika-infected areas outside the U.S.

Here in NC, we follow “Best Mosquito Management Practices”:  first we survey to determine where we have mosquitoes and breeding sites, then we determine the best methods to address those sites. The emphasis remains on all of the non-chemical measures that all citizens need to take to reduce mosquito populations around their home and community (see NCSU Mosquito Control bulletin at

The initial emphasis has been for ground-based spraying within about 150 meters of ‘confirmed’ mosquito-transmitted cases (not simply someone who got the disease by getting bitten by an infected mosquito while traveling). This distance is based on the typical flight ranges of the mosquitoes.

It is important to understand that the so-called “Zika mosquito” (Aedes aegypti), as well as the more common Asian tiger mosquito, are day-flying mosquitoes. Spraying for mosquitoes target the mosquitoes when they are actively flying and they literally run into the insecticide particles. The spraying seen in Miami, where the workers are going into residents’ yards, focuses on treating adult resting sites and larvae breeding sites—such as tires, tree holes, other man-made objects, as well as storm sewers and catch basins.

Various state agencies, along with mosquito experts at local universities have been working on plans to address any local Zika virus outbreak. There are currently no immediate plans to initiate spray programs on a state-wide scale. That said, there are many individuals, private citizens, who are paying commercial companies to treat their property. It is these ongoing treatments that can have enormous impact on backyard beekeepers, native bee populations, people with organic gardens, home-based childcare centers, and other situations.

Once again, communication is key, and we all need to do our part. This begins by educating ourselves about all aspects of this important issue, and requires that we notify our neighbors and public officials about apiaries and spraying.

If you are a beekeeper: register your apiary with the NCDA&CS, and participate in the DriftWatch program.

  • Let your neighbors know about your bees—a jar of honey goes a long way!
  • If you spray for mosquitoes: check with neighbors about managed beehives in the vicinity. Avoid spraying when bees are actively foraging on flowers.
  • Be sure to remove breeding sites for mosquito larvae to reduce local populations and therefore the need to spray in the first place.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.