ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Taking them out before they bite. That’s what’s going on right now in Maryland marshes as the state wages war on mosquitoes.

Alex DeMetrick reports the first strike is all about air power.

Spray rigs are used to knock mosquitoes out of the air, killing the winged adults that fly and bite. But it takes an airplane to stop mosquitoes from ever reaching adulthood, stopping the insects while they’re still in the water.

“We’re trying to target the larvae while these mosquitoes are breeding out in the water in the marsh before they become adults,” said Arthur Meilhammer, MDA environmental specialist.

In Maryland, there are tens of thousands of acres of marsh land with the potential for billions of mosquitoes. Spraying larvicide from the air is the first line of defense. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has very little time to get it right.

“This time of the year, four or five days at the very most,” said Paul Nuwer, MDA pilot.

What’s sprayed is mostly water with a few ounces of larvicide mixed in. The chemical is so diluted, it is invisible in the air. It is also designed not to hurt other life in the marshes.

“They’re very benign. They target just specific species of mosquitoes, not even all of them,” said Nuwer.

These marshes may seem a long way from most people, but mosquitoes can close that distance.

“They will, when the winds pick up, move into populated areas. And that’s why we try to control them,” said Meilhammer. “About 20 miles.”

Keeping them from getting out of the marshes is more than controlling a nuisance. Salt marsh mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus and Eastern Encephalitis and potentially something worse.

“Mosquitoes are credited with killing more people than all the wars put together,” said Nuwer.

Even though mosquito larvae are vulnerable to spraying for only a few days, treatment has a mortality rate above 90 percent.

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