More than infected mosquitoes are preying on unsuspecting humans, according to a North Texas mosquito authority.
Bug spray companies and pest exterminators also are targeting consumers concerned with Zika and West Nile viruses.
“If they’re just getting into business this year, I would be suspicious of them,” said Steve Moore of Dallas, better known as “Mosquito Steve.”
Moore, who business is Mosquito Steve LLC, sells his own line of mosquito repellant and appears regularly on local radio to educate listeners on how to battle the insects and the diseases they carry.
But with the recent Zika epidemic making headlines after several cases of local transmission by mosquitos were confirmed in the Miami area, worried residents are reaching for repellant and recommended bug spray companies to allay their Zika and West Nile fears. (Most reported cases of Zika in the United States so far are related to travel abroad, according to public health officials.)
Those fears hit home in July when the year’s first confirmed human case of West Nile virus was reported in Tarrant County. The Tarrant County Public Health Department confirmed that a Bedford-area individual has the more serious neuroinvasive form of the disease but would not release more details. The agency also reported Tarrant County’s 15th case of imported Zika on Aug. 6.
Although residents in other states reportedly have been defrauded by bug spray businesses sometimes selling anti-Zika wristbands and other suspicious items, Fort Worth officials report no rise in complaints or inquiries since last year.
“That’s not unusual, considering there have been concerns of West Nile and other insect-related viruses for years in North Texas,” said Lindsey Haase, a spokeswoman with the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau.
Still, bug spray companies and repellant manufacturers stand to profit as the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads Zika, which infects people after mosquitoes bite an infected person and then bite another individual. Indications of the disease often go unnoticed since most victims experience only mild symptoms. But the virus can lead to severe birth defects if pregnant women are infected.
While health officials recommend that residents in Zika-affected areas wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to minimize exposed skin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Off!, Cutter and other brands of repellant.
As residents seek protection, Moore and Haase hope they also consider repellant products and a company’s history before signing a contract.
Moore advises residents to be cautious of newly formed companies, reasoning that some may have formed specifically to capitalize on recent Zika fears.
“It’s all about sales and getting them [potential customers] to sign a contract, not a desire to give them a product that works,” Moore said.
The Fort Worth Better Business Bureau agrees. It warns consumers to research pest-control companies claiming to reduce the likelihood of contracting the Zika virus. The bureau says consumers should be wary of guarantees or claims of eliminating the cause of the virus. It also emphasizes limitations in what pest control exterminators can do to stop the mosquitoes that spread Zika.
The Better Business Bureau has released the following tips before hiring pest control contractors:
• Check references: Get references from several past customers. Get both older references (at least a year old) so you can check on the quality of the work and newer references so you can make sure current employees are up to the task.
• Make sure it's legal: Confirm that any business being considered for hire is licensed and registered to work in your area. If in doubt, request proof of a current insurance certificate from the company’s insurance company.
• Get it in writing: Get a written contract with the price, chemicals used, procedure/method, coverage area/length and timeline. The more detail, the better. Always read and understand contracts before you sign them.
• Watch for "red flags:" Say no to cash-only deals or high-pressure sales tactics to act immediately, and avoid doing business with someone who shows up unannounced at your door or wants you to pay the entire cost upfront.
• For more information: www.bbb.org.