Before this year, many people had never even heard of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, even though the infection is well over 50 years old. This latest outbreak has brought equal levels of concern and uncertainty as well as plenty of media coverage, perhaps in part due to several Olympic athletes deciding not to compete in the 2016 games because of the threat of Zika.
Concerns about Zika are growing, especially since the virus causes a serious birth defect called microcephaly, which is a sign of incomplete brain development in mothers who contracted it during pregnancy. The infection can also cause stillbirth and miscarriage. As of today, there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Nov. 2, there have been 4,128 reported cases of Zika in the U.S., 1,005 of which were pregnant women. So far, Florida is the only state where the infection has spread domestically. The CDC issued guidance for people who travel or live within a 4.5-square-mile area of the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, which was identified as having mosquito-borne spread of Zika.
Additionally, many states are expected to see near to above-average temperatures through November, according to The Weather Company’s Fall Temperature Outlook, which could extend mosquito season.
A VIABLE SOLUTION
The best way to prevent Zika, according to the CDC, is to prevent mosquito bites in general. The health organization also recommends using air conditioning in the home or staying in places with air conditioning to prevent mosquito bites.
According to Jerome Hogsette, lead scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Mosquito and Fly Research Unit, “Air movement is known to be effective in disrupting insect flight.”
Hogsette addressed growing Zika virus concerns in a recent press release, suggesting air curtains as a possible solution to preventing mosquitos from infiltrating buildings. “By providing direction to air movement, it creates a barrier, thus air curtains can protect against the intrusion of mosquitoes, flies, and other flying insects.”
John Pas, a product manager at Nortek Global HVAC, agreed, noting air curtains are effective at preventing insects from entering buildings through open doorways. Pas also said the company has yet to receive any inquiries from end users or contractors regarding Zika; however, that could change in the near future as other companies are starting to field questions.
“We have started receiving questions regarding the Zika virus and using air curtains to prevent mosquitos from entering buildings,” said Miranda Berner, marketing director, Berner Intl. “While we have had a couple of inquiries, I don’t think we can directly attribute any sales to it.”
Berner Intl. issued a press release regarding Zika and the use of air curtains as a source of prevention. Company reps have been referencing the release as a guide when questions arise.
“Air movement is known for deterring insect flight,” Berner said. “Air curtains are a popular technology in hospitals, hotels, and airports. You’re starting to see them used more and more for both insect control and climate control — you get two for one.”
Williams Comfort Products’ air curtains are certified and rated by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), which tests equipment for the food service industry, noted James Gill, vice president of sales for Williams. “Basically, they are guaranteed by the NSF to generate enough velocity to prevent any infiltration of flying insects into a facility. The certification is specific to the food service industry, but it guarantees performance that would work in residential buildings, shopping centers, gas stations, and really any environment.”
Gill said the company has had many people ask questions about mosquitos over the years.
“A very popular install base for us is Texas and Florida, where you have a high population, but also humidity, dampness, and heat, which is a breeding ground for insects,” he said. “Information requests are up over 100 percent. And I don’t know if it’s just in regards to mosquitos, but our sales are up year over year substantially.”
There are many different preventive measures one can take to help repel insects or keep them from infiltrating a building; however, they all have downsides, Gill added.
“For example, if I have a steel door that’s built to prevent insect infiltration, that’s fine, but the second that door is open, there is an issue with the integrity of the closure. It’s the same with plastic curtains, like those found in walk-in coolers or stores, like Costco. They’re great, but the same principle applies. At some point, those curtains are open, and, in more cases than not, people will tie those curtains to the side so they can go back and forth when unloading. At that point, the curtain is not doing anything to prevent insect infiltration. The air curtain is really the only barrier that is always working, whether the entryway is open or closed.”
The great thing about air curtains is they provide an invisible barrier of protection over any opening, including front doors, back doors, dry dock entrances, warehouse doors, and more, noted Julie Konowitz, vice president, food service sales and corporate marketing, Mars Air Systems.
“We have three basic channels that gain universal benefits from our product — HVAC; material handling, which includes production facilities, warehousing, and distribution; and food service, which covers restaurants, health care, cafeterias, schools, and essentially any food prep environment.” Konowitz explained. “We get inquiries from all directions but we haven’t had many inquiries about Zika, as of yet. We have done some research on the topic and created a couple of news pieces and email communiques on the topic.”
Claudine Hanani, principal and founder of Amp’d Lab, a marketing and brand management firm representing Mars Air Systems, said she anticipates Zika becoming more dominant in conversations, which is why Mars decided to fund research and informational materials regarding the virus.
“We’ve been following the news, and although Zika seems to be mostly dominant in the Southeast right now, we expect that to change with the CDC issuing guidelines and Congress trying to fund it,” she said. “We’ve been looking for opportunities to share our insights about its control. We’ve got a pretty viable solution that can make a tremendous difference if there’s any kind of opening. I think we’ll have a bigger presence once the conversation starts to gear up.”
Konowitz added that air curtains are considered more favorable than other kinds of insect prevention because people are looking for non-chemical solutions.
“From the majority of clients, we’re hearing a lot about their desire to stop any and all flying insects,” said Jeff Kinni, a principal at Preferred Marketing Agents Inc. in Deerfield Beach, Florida, which is a Mars rep. “The idea of Zika is still under the radar for most. In Miami-Dade, where the first U.S. cases were reported, the local press has begun more intensive coverage of the issue and is beginning to cover the aerial and spot spraying, which is being met with intensive resistance. People still tend to prefer a non-chemical approach to stopping mosquitos and every other flying pest that annoys them, and air curtains deliver a sound solution.”
For more up-to-date information on the Zika virus, visit www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.
Publication date: 11/14/2016