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LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- Two years ago, the incongruous image of helicopters spraying pesticides over New York's Central Park was prominently featured in national television newscasts. Today, the buzz surrounding West Nile virus (WNV) seems to have faded in the nation's collective consciousness.
Despite a sharp decline in WNV infection rates nationwide and a lower level of concern among the American public, the use of pesticides to control the mosquitoes that carry the virus is expected to remain steady, according to market research being undertaken by Kline & Company.
Use of pesticides by county and state government agencies and professional contractors to target mosquitoes increased rapidly between 2001 and 2003, following the spread of WNV across the United States. In 2001, about $40 million was spent on mosquito control products, but by 2003, this total jumped by nearly 38 percent to approach $55 million, according to the report, The U.S. Market for Professional Mosquito Control Products 2004.
Preliminary research conducted by Kline for the planned 2006 update to this study indicates that although such rapid growth won't be maintained, now that the advance of the virus has slowed, demand in the professional sector should stay relatively high for the next few years. This will be the resulted of continued prudent management of mosquito populations and the acknowledgement that the danger of more WNV outbreaks could still be lurking.
"It's possible that all the spraying by the mosquito control districts and health departments is what has reduced the spread of WNV to almost zero. But there's a flip side to this," says Dennis Fugate, industry manager for the Specialty Pesticides practice of Kline's research division. "It could also be that the virus is just as prevalent in the mosquitoes, and because of the increased pesticide applications and the increased use of mosquito repellents by consumers, the people who are most susceptible aren't getting bitten as much. We don't know for sure, but we know that WMV cases are down, and that the agencies in charge of mosquito control want to keep it that way."
A major factor for these agencies in their war against mosquitoes is the weather. An early onset to the hurricane season this year could mean that higher levels of applications will be required in the Southeast, since the aftermath of the storms brings more standing water and creates ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed. Conversely, a dry spell in the Midwest may lower the demand for mosquito control products there, at least during the first half of the summer.
"With a particularly wet summer season, those districts may increase the level of larvacide treatments they apply as a preventative measure," says Mancer Cyr, senior associate for Kline's Specialty Pesticides consulting practice. "But by and large, most of the treatments are made to kill adult mosquitoes with spray applications of malathion or naled. Different regions have different needs, but even if the public isn't talking about WNV anymore, the mosquito control agencies know this can change quickly if the disease reappears through more outbreaks.
Source: Kline & Company