BROOKSVILLE — A massive counter-attack by Hernando County against an unseasonable and severe mosquito outbreak appears to be working.
But despite having four trucks traveling the county spraying chemicals day and night, county officials say it could take a while before the swarms of mosquitoes are brought under control.
"It looks like it's going to be a long battle," Joe Stapf, director of environmental services, said this week. "We got taken by surprise, and now all we can do is keep after it."
While the county doesn't usually begin spraying for mosquitoes until late May, a combination of recent heavy rains and warm temperatures created a perfect breeding environment for mosquitoes to proliferate. Over the past two weeks the county has logged more than 900 mosquito complaints by residents.
On Friday, county administrator David Hamilton agreed to free up to $300,000 from the general fund to deal with the problem. Spray trucks began rolling Friday night and are being operated by mosquito control and utilities department staffers, as well as temporary employees.
According to Stapf, 229 man-hours were devoted to the spray effort last weekend that covered 29,000 acres. Workers are now concentrating on reapplying pesticides in heavily infested areas west of U.S. 19.
The department has also started applying larvacide in retention ponds and drainage areas to kill the mosquito larvae before they mature into adult flying insects.
Nita Beckwith-Melaugh, who lives off Centralia Road near U.S. 19, said she has seen a noticeable improvement the last few days. Before the spraying effort, venturing outside on her property at dusk was nearly impossible, she said.
"They just attacked you relentlessly," Beckwith-Melaugh said. "I've lived here 23 years and I've never seen them so bad. I'm glad the county finally got it together enough to deal with the problem."
Stapf said that budget cuts to the department last year have made it more of a challenge to control mosquitoes.
To save money, the county last year reduced the department's budget by $102,000, which meant the loss of six part-time workers who did most of the nighttime spraying.
Stapf said that due to the unexpected outbreak, the department will probably have to go before the County Commission to get additional funds to continue fighting the mosquito problem throughout the summer.
"If we get the kind of summer rains we usually get, that's pretty much a given," Stapf said.
Meanwhile, Health Department officials are continuing to monitor for mosquito-borne diseases, such as encephalitis and West Nile virus, which was discovered in three sentinel chickens last fall. So far, there are no reports of any disease, Environmental Health Manager Al Gray said.
"Because of the severity of the outbreak, we're checking with mosquito control regularly," Gray said.
"The best thing that people can do is to buy a good repellent and avoid being outdoors during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are active."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.