As the West Nile Virus heads into its peak season, supermarkets in states hit especially hard this year by human cases of the mosquito-born virus are better prepared to handle demand of bug-control products, retailers told SN.
Supermarkets are seeing sales spikes of bug repellents containing DEET, the chemical health officials say is most effective in killing West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes.
"We have seen sales increases across the company [for bug-control products], and our Rocky Mountain division specifically is up in insect-repellent sales," said Karianne Cole, spokeswoman for Albertsons, Boise, Idaho. Albertsons' Rocky Mountain division consists of 73 stores in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.
While West Nile Virus cases have hit across the country, Colorado and South Dakota are the two states with the largest number of outbreaks this year, according to the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. Colorado has reported 263 human cases and six deaths from the virus; South Dakota has reported 157 human cases and one death, according to the CDC. Nationally, CDC reported 883 human cases and 19 deaths (as of Aug. 25).
West Nile infects birds that are bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become carriers by biting infected birds, then passing along the virus to humans. In 2002, there were 4,156 reported cases of West Nile Virus human infections in 44 states, according to the CDC. The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999.
Most people who become infected show either no symptoms or mild flu-like ones, but in rare cases the virus can develop into West Nile encephalitis or meningitis, which could prove fatal.
In many Colorado stores, Albertsons has put up special merchandising racks with informational pamphlets about the virus, Cole said. "We want to be a resource, and when you put information next to the product, customers will be more likely to gravitate to it," she said.
Additionally, pharmacies are an added asset to stores for answering questions about West Nile Virus, Cole noted. "Our pharmacists have been watching the situation, and they've been a good resource for educating the public."
King Soopers, a Denver-based banner under Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is getting "loads and loads" of OFF! insect repellents containing DEET, according to once source at a Loveland, Colo., store. The retailer houses special displays of the bug sprays, produced by SC Johnson & Son, Racine, Wis., and other bug-control products near the front of the store and the pharmacy area, said the source. Virus cases are "getting worse and worse every day," he said.
At Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., the natural foods retailer has taken a more holistic approach to West Nile prevention, said Sonja Tuitele, spokeswoman. The nutritionists answer questions and encourage customers to take vitamin B1 to ward off mosquito bites, she said. Wild Oats also offers all-natural mosquito repellents, Tuitele said.
However, manufacturers are keeping up with bug-spray demand better than last year, said Jay Marshall, a store director at an Omaha Hy-Vee location. "Supply chains have been very good. Manufacturers are keeping up with it, [and there haven't been] any out-of-stocks," he told SN. "They've ramped up production, and we've not had a problem." Nebraska is one of the worst states hit by the virus, following Colorado and South Dakota, with the CDC reporting 130 human infections and three deaths from the virus this year so far.
"Last year was the first year we dealt with West Nile on such a large scale, so we're more prepared this year in getting retailers ready with additional inventory and special endcap displays," said Angela Proctor, assistant product manager, Spectrum Brands, St. Louis, which manufactures Cutter and Repel insect repellent products.
"Retailers have done a much better job at preparing for West Nile," she added. This year, Cutter was made available in convenience packs containing three individual wipes penetrated with 7% DEET. Next year, the company plans to launch the individual wipes in larger size counts under the Repel brand, as well as 20-count canisters containing wipes penetrated with 30% DEET under the Repel Sportsman brand.
The virus has changed the bug-control category, said Marshall. "Four or five years ago, retailers would normally [reduce] these products" in late summer, he said. "Now, you have product need up until the first freeze of the year."