TAMPA — The bay area has been inundated by mosquitoes. Equally overwhelmed are the phone lines of agencies battling the infestation.
Calls to Hillsborough County Mosquito Control are nearly triple what they were last year at this time.
Many of the callers are from the region's coastal areas, reflecting the heightened presence of aggressive salt marsh mosquitoes this year.
Public works crews are paying repeat visits to neighborhoods around MacDill Air Force Base, South Tampa, West Shore, the Port of Tampa, Apollo Beach and the Sun City area, said Sala Garbaj, general manager of Hillsborough County Mosquito Control.
"The bulk of our calls, 90 percent, are in those areas equally," Garbaj said.
Hillsborough had 3,325 service requests from April 1 to July 14.
Pinellas County Mosquito Control has received 267 calls this month and got 333 calls in June.
In both counties, those numbers were roughly triple last year's calls. Experts say heavy rains and high temperatures are likely to blame for the mosquito increase.
"We're getting eaten alive by mosquitoes," said Rosemary Avila, who lives near the water in Shore Acres and called Pinellas County several times to gripe. "My animals are, too. As soon as we go out they get swarmed. It's like a cloud. It's never been this bad."
In Pinellas, officials note an increase in all 36 varieties of mosquitoes common to the area. The salt marsh mosquitoes may have proliferated after higher-than-normal tides hatched eggs in coastal lowlands, officials say. From there, it's just a quick hop to the region's many waterfront neighborhoods.
Salt marsh mosquitoes have a much greater flying range than the typical "ankle biter," so they are finding their way to mid-county neighborhoods, too.
Salt marsh mosquitoes draw more blood, so they bite more and leave bigger welts. On the bright side, they are not prevalent carriers of West Nile virus or St. Louis encephalitis.
In response to the heavy telephone traffic, Pinellas technicians have been out nearly every day this month, searching for pools of stagnant water or spraying from helicopters in the mornings. "It's spread around everywhere," said Nancy Ianotti, operations manager for Pinellas County Mosquito Control. "We just had so much rain so quickly."
Luis Perez can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2271.