We all know that a mosquito’s buzz can bring down barbecues, camping trips, and little league games—but what about its effects on businesses? The important safety and health implications of these pests are too often overlooked in the context of work, even in the face of growing concerns about mosquito-borne illnesses. As issues like the Zika virus continue to make headlines across the country, food processing business executives and managers must think carefully about how they can mitigate mosquitoes in and around their facilities to ensure the well-being of their staff and customers.
What Are the Threats?
A major challenge that business owners have encountered in recent months is that of mosquito-borne illnesses—both in learning about these diseases and how they are spread, as well as keeping themselves and their employees safe. Business owners have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees, so it is important to understand how these risks can impact food processing facilities.
Recent headlines have been dominated by the Zika virus, a serious illness that has captured global attention. The virus was first discovered in humans in 1952 in Uganda, and has since remained relatively isolated to tropical communities. However, increased global travel has made it easier for infected individuals to carry the virus to new locales—and once it has made landfall in a new home, it can be spread through local mosquito-based transmission and other means, such as sexual contact.
The virus is mostly harmless to average individuals—it can cause mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye)—but has also been closely linked to serious medical conditions including Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare autoimmune disorder) and microcephaly among newborns whose mothers were infected while pregnant.
What Leaders Need to Understand
The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by infected mosquitoes from two distinct species—Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, and Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger. Both of these insects are particularly prone to spreading infection because they breed in close proximity to humans in artificial containers or other areas prone to holding water, even tiny amounts—from rooftop puddles to drainage dishes under planters. In commercial and industrial settings, such as food manufacturing facilities, it is critical to know that indoor water sources might provide mosquito eggs the environment they need to hatch, such as indoor trash receptacles or drainage areas.
Another major consideration for business owners concerned about Zika is the time of day that these mosquitoes bite. Many individuals expect that mosquitoes will be present during evening outdoor activities, but Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are primarily active during the day and prefer to make their home in indoor environments—so workplaces could present a major opportunity for them to find their next meal. Business owners, particularly those in the American southeast where Zika infections through mosquito bite are forecast to most likely occur, should be aware of these distinctions to ensure that their anti-mosquito efforts are as effective as possible.
The challenges posed by mosquito-borne illness aren’t limited to the Zika virus. The West Nile Virus, which has been present in North America since 1999, has made a recent resurgence in many U.S. communities and caused alarm among public health officials.
Because only certain species of mosquitoes can spread the Zika or West Nile viruses, try to communicate to employees effectively about the risk while not increasing worries beyond a reasonable level. Business owners who have questions about Zika or other mosquito-borne illnesses should work with a pest management professional in their community to learn more about which mosquito species are present in their area and how they might affect employees.
What Should Managers Do?
Business owners should contact a pest management professional who can work with them to evaluate their situation, find areas of their facilities and surrounding grounds that might be serving as an ideal mosquito breeding ground, and develop a plan of action. Entomological experts can assess these areas and determine the best course of action, as well as provide strategic approaches that are best-suited to manage mosquito populations.