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Rise of Zika fuels pest control brands


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A Mosquito Joe technician sprays a customer’s yard.

Aedes aegypti. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, the disease that this mosquito transmits might: Zika.

The innocuous-looking mosquito has been striking fear around the globe for centuries now by being an effective vector for a whole range of diseases. The latest of these health threats to grab the headlines is Zika, and public fear has been compounded by media images of babies with alarming birth defects.

In Brazil, babies have been born with conditions such as microcephaly, where the brain and skull forms smaller than normal, and this has been traced to the virus. In addition, Zika has the potential to cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which can induce debilitating paralysis.

The headlines have been enough to cause panic and misinformation about the disease, and are having phones ring off the hook at mosquito-control franchises around the country.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has been serving as a clearinghouse for much of zika-related information and, as of mid-June 2016, reported there were no “locally acquired vector-borne cases” of Zika in the continental United States. In other words, as of mid-June 2016, nobody in the mainland United States had contracted Zika from a local mosquito bite. In Hawaii and the U.S. territories, however, which include Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the CDC number for locally acquired cases of Zika equaled 1,301.

Within the continental United States, the CDC reported there have been 691 travel-related cases of Zika and 11 sexually transmitted incidences.

In February 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and the CDC subsequently elevated its response efforts to a Level 1 activation, the highest response level at the agency.

Mosquito control franchises around the United States have reported an increase in call volume and sales as a result of all the media coverage of Zika and because the public at large is anxious about protection from the disease.

 “From our perspective, Zika without question has helped so far this season, especially in some of our franchise locations in Florida and Texas,” said Kevin Wilson, CEO of Mosquito Joe, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Just the awareness that the press has brought to the forefront with the issue in Brazil. That really causes people to be very frightened, so our phone has been ringing a lot.”

Chris Grandpre, CEO of Mosquito Squad headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, agrees. “The call volume and growth rate have really accelerated this year and the calls also started earlier this year,” he said. “The types of questions we’re getting have included consumers asking about Zika. Customers have called asking if the service will protect against Zika, what they can do outside of a mosquito-control service to protect themselves.

“We’ve even had consumers who called us and said their obstetrician recommended that they engage Mosquito Squad as a layer of protection to make sure that while they’re going through a pregnancy, they were not exposed to Zika,” Grandpre added.

Walking a fine line

While sales are a good thing, mosquito control franchises are expending a lot of energy into walking the fine line between doing business as usual and taking care not to play on already high public hysteria about Zika.

Things are made worse by misinformation about the number of reported cases, likely effects, and points of transmission of Zika. For example, when the first travel-related cases of Zika were reported in the United States, there was a lot of attendant panic because people assumed the cases were from local mosquito bites, said Michael Moorhouse, CEO of North Attleboro, Masschusetts-headquartered Mosquito Shield.

Moorhouse said Mosquito Shield has always played up the quality of life aspect of the business and believes in educating both the public and franchisees about Zika.

“Heightened awareness is always a good thing and so is education,” he said, adding that mosquito control solutions can be a good fit for those who need help to add a layer of protection to their residences. However,  he would never be so definitive as to say that’s the only thing needed. “We have upped our game and put everybody on notice, but there’s also a responsibility on us. We have to walk a fine line,” Moorhouse said.

Others are adopting a similar approach. “The last thing we want is to be perceived as taking advantage of an unfortunate situation or trying to commercialize the situation,” Grandpre said. “The approach we’ve taken is very consistent with one of the core components of our brand mission and message, which is education.”

Grandpre pointed out that Zika is just the latest in a long list of diseases starting with malaria that mosquitoes are capable of spreading. Chikungunya and dengue fever too can be spread by mosquitoes and up until recently, it was West Nile virus that occupied most of the news bandwidth. The disease continues to be a threat in the U.S.

The franchises have all educated franchisees and the public about Zika. Mosquito Joe has set up a webpage with information and Mosquito Shield has set up an exclusive website, zikanewssource.com, to address questions and concerns. The website aggregates news streams from around the world.

Franchises such as Mosquito Authority are offering free initial treatment for expectant mothers. Moorhouse reported the season started earlier for Mosquito Shield and that they had hired additional staff and trucks.

Grandpre said Mosquito Squad has hosted many webinars to share knowledge with franchisees, and forged partnerships with industry experts and has established entomologists on staff.

The bottom line for franchises: While the disease that might be making news today is different, the nature of the beast remains the same. “Zika is one more disease that the mosquito carries from our perspective,” Wilson said.

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