Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Scammers, Bug Spray Companies Capitalizing on Fears of Zika Virus

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Scammers, Bug Spray Companies Capitalizing on Fears of Zika Virus

Article excerpt

TRENTON, N.J. - Worried you might catch the Zika virus? Scammers and bug spray companies are counting on it. Marketers know this is the time to pounce: The summer Olympics are about to start in Brazil, where the recent Zika epidemic started, and 14 mosquito- borne cases of Zika were identified recently in the Miami area, the first in the U.S. So companies and entrepreneurs are capitalizing on Zika fears wherever mosquitoes buzz, hawking questionable products like anti-Zika wristbands and promoting all manner of mosquito repellents for people and pets.

"From a marketing point of view, it's a golden opportunity," said Jonathan Day, a University of Florida mosquito expert and researcher.

In a first for a bugspray, Off! became the official insect repellent supplier for an Olympic Games, and agreed to send 115,000 sprays, spritzers and towelettes to the Rio Olympics. Rival Cutter in June signed on to sponsor the U.S. men's and women's national soccer teams.

Both companies are likely to benefit from Zika fears far beyond supplying athletes and fans in Brazil. Pharmacies in New York City, for example, have Off! displays warning consumers to "Repel the mosquitoes that may carry the Zika virus." The tropical mosquito responsible for the Zika epidemic, called Aedes aegypti, is not found in New York, though state health officials still recommend that people use bug spray.

Zika is usually spread when the mosquito picks it up by biting an infected person and bites someone else. It is a worrying disease, of course, especially for pregnant women. Its symptoms are often so mild that most people don't know they have it, but it has been found to cause severe birth defects if women are infected while pregnant.

Health officials say people in Zika-affected areas should take steps to avoid getting or spreading the disease by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and using insect repellent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically mentions brands like Off! and Cutter in its recommendations.

Zika can also be transmitted by sex, so the CDC recommends using condoms to prevent spreading the virus if one partner is infected, or might be.

In a marketer's hand, that kind of recommendation turns a condom into a Zika-fighting device. Australia's Ansell Ltd. is supplying that country's Olympic team with "anti-Zika condoms lubricated with an antiviral gel. But that gel has never been tested outside a laboratory, and experts say any condom will do the job.

Some enterprising marketers are trying to make a few dollars by rebranding products as Zika fighters.

Among them is a Louisiana exterminator who is hawking a $1,678 outdoor mosquito misting system as the "Zika Cube. Its maker, Katy, Texas-based Pynamite Mosquito Misting Systems, said it didn't authorize sales of its product under that name and will order the man to stop, though Pynamite's website does say "effective mosquito control in your yard is the best way to prevent Zika and other mosquito-related diseases. …

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