Minimize West Nile Virus on Your Apartment Property
Chris Lee said his Dallas-based landscape business that specializes in multifamily properties has been swarmed in recent weeks by calls from property owners and managers who are concerned about this year’s outbreak, the largest in the United States since 2004.
Through Aug. 16, West Nile had claimed 26 lives and sickened nearly 700 others, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). Since then, three more deaths have been reported from the virus that is spread to humans by bites from mosquitoes infected from biting birds.
Owners are asking for help to eliminate or prevent breeding conditions for mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile Virus that first arrived in the U.S. in 1999, according to Lee.
“We had a situation last week where an apartment community got complaints about a lot of mosquitoes,” said Lee, a featured Property Management Insider columnist who operates Earthworks. “We kind of made the assumption that they were running the sprinklers too long, creating standing water and causing all these mosquitoes.
But Lee and the property manager walked the property and found no evidence—that is until they looked over a fence that lined the adjacent alley.
“As a last gasp, (the property manager) looks over into a city alley and the whole alley is full of potholes with standing water,” Lee said. “He walks around there and there is this swarm of mosquitoes in these puddles, and we immediately realize the problem is coming from next door.”
Of cases reported nationwide, 80 percent have been located in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and California. Texas has been hardest hit with nearly 50 percent of reported cases, including 16 deaths. Dallas County declared a state of emergency and instituted aerial spraying in mid-August.
Executive Director Gerry Henigsman said the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas (AAGD) recently updated its website with mosquito control information from the city to help members head off problems. The front page of the website has an “Emergency Update” that refers members and residents to the City of Dallas website for additional information.
“I think there is some concern,” he said. “If someone calls here we basically refer them to landscape people or our website. We do get calls, but I wouldn’t say we’re getting an extraordinary amount.”
In Louisiana, where swampy, grassy areas provide the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, West Nile is on the rise, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals. Particularly concerning is that of the 92 cases reported this year, 47 have been the more serious noninvasive disease, the highest since 2006.
Six people have died in Louisiana and five in neighboring Mississippi.
But area-wide mosquito spraying that has been in place since a severe outbreak in 2002 that claimed 24 lives along with better education has kept fears at bay in New Orleans, says Apartment Association of Greater New Orleans (AAGNO) Executive Director Tammy Esponge.
Esponge said that property owners and residents have become more aware of West Nile and know where to go to seek information to combat mosquito assaults. The AAGNO refers questions about mosquito control and West Nile to local parish and government websites.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of (properties) as far as getting the information out, getting tips on how to keep mosquitoes away,” Esponge said.
Lee applauds the proactive approach by property managers and says a simple walk around the property to check for issues goes a long way toward mosquito control. He suggests five simple steps for identifying stagnant water than can be potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Check Storm Drains
By design, most drain basins or storm drains have an area below the outflow pipe to collect sediment. Because the basin usually is made of plastic or concrete, water below the drain line has no place to go and often stands, providing a perfect breeding opportunity for mosquitoes.
Check Potted Plants
Potted plants usually have a saucer to catch water that sifts through the potting soil. Over watering or a recent rain can overfill the saucer and create standing water where mosquitoes can breed and hatch.
Check for Dripping Spigots and Leaky Sprinklers
An outdoor spigot drip can create puddles that often go undetected because they are hidden by bushes and shrubs. Sprinkler system leaks can create standing water in grassy areas that can also go unnoticed. A pipe or head may have a leak that leaves a constant puddle.
Check for A/C Drainage
Air conditioning systems have condensation lines that usually drain outside. Check the drain area to make sure water flows away or is absorbed by the ground.
Check for Potholes
As in the case with the city alley, roadways and parking lots with potholes or a sidewalk with depressions will hold water.
When a potential water hazard is discovered, it’s a good idea to recheck the area in three to four hours to determine if the water is still standing. Problem areas should be addressed immediately, either by repair or chemical or organic treatment.
Larvicide “cakes” are commercially available and can be placed wholly or broken into smaller pieces to treat standing water like small ponds or planter saucers for up to 30 days. Most are ecologically friendly, don’t harm pets or humans and can be purchased at your local home improvement center.
Also, let your residents know that management is being proactive to rid the property of a potentially harmful problem. Send emails or post flyers informing residents to be aware of conditions that could breed mosquitoes.