Authorities are desperately looking for ways to slow the spread of the Zika virus in the United States.
One of their main weapons against the mosquitos that carry the disease is aerial pesticides. These are chemicals sprayed from airplanes and helicopters onto swampy areas that breed mosquitoes. Many local governments across the country routinely spray for mosquitoes.
Zika causes birth defects in infants and nerve disorders in adults. With the disease bearing down, it’s likely there will be more pesticide spraying than ever this summer.
But there’s a problem with aerial spraying. A new study shows it increases the risk of autism.
Children living in areas doused by aerial mosquito pesticides are 25% more likely to suffer autism or other developmental problems, according to Penn State scientists.1
They looked at an area of New York state. In neighborhoods with aerial spraying, one in 120 children was diagnosed with autism or developmental delays. In areas without aircraft pesticide application, only one in 172 kids had such problems.
The study mirrors previous research. Two years ago, California researchers found that women who lived within a mile of pesticide-treated crop fields were more likely to have a child with autism.2
The chemicals in both studies are known as pyrethroids. Besides autism, they are linked to breathing problems, involuntary twitching, seizures, and cancer.3 The Environmental Protection Agency has classified pyrethroids as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”4
Chemical Spraying: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
First, find out if there is aerial spraying in your area. Your local health department can tell you.
Get a spraying schedule. Mosquito spraying is handled by county governments in most areas. But some cities have their own programs. Many mosquito control programs list their spray schedule on their website. If not, call them and ask for a schedule.
Get email alerts. Some spraying programs allow you to sign up to get emails before spraying occurs in your neighborhood.
Stay indoors during spraying. Keep pets inside, too. Keep your windows closed. Most aerial mosquito spraying occurs in the two hours before sunset and the hour after.
Don’t allow clothes to hang on outdoor clothes lines during spraying. If they are exposed, wash with soap and water before you wear them.
Cover children’s outdoor play equipment during spraying. Use a tarp to cover sandboxes, playhouses, and swimming pools.
If you must be outside during spraying… Wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t exercise or otherwise exert yourself.
Thoroughly wash garden produce before eating.
One other thing to consider: Ground spraying using trucks or workers with tanks is not associated with autism, according to researchers. This may be because the pesticide is not as widely dispersed. This makes it less likely to be in the air you breathe.
The safest option is no spraying at all. But with Zika threatening, it’s unlikely local officials will stop using pesticides. However, it may be feasible for your neighborhood to be treated with ground spraying instead of airplanes. Ask your county board or mosquito control board members.
The important thing is that you do everything you can to protect yourself and children.
In Good Health,
Executive Director, INH Health Watch