The rise in home foreclosures has led to another increase, though one you might not expect.
As more Hernando County residents abandon their homes, mosquitoes are finding new places to breed. With homes untended, mosquitoes have found refuge in swimming pools and other home amenities where they were previously unwelcome.
That is problematic for Dr. Guangye Hu, director of Hernando County Mosquito Control.
From January to June of this year, Hu's field technicians have applied mosquito-killing chemicals to 80 swimming pools — most at abandoned and foreclosed homes throughout the county. During the same period last year, mosquito control treated 31 pools; in 2006, 10 pools.
"It's just time consuming," Hu said.
Al Gray, environmental health director for the Hernando County Health Department, said abandoned swimming pools can be a "sanitary nuisance."
Mosquito control officials took the opportunity this week, National Mosquito Awareness Week, to educate residents about the threat of mosquitoes and what they can do to help. Hu's staff set up displays in local stores; distributed magnets, pins and note pads; handed out brochures, and used other methods to teach the public about mosquitoes.
Residents, Hu said, can be vital to the fight.
Of the five steps the department uses to control the mosquito population — surveillance, killing larvae, biological control, source reduction and killing adult mosquitoes — Hu believes the most important step is source reduction, which eliminates areas where mosquitoes can breed.
"The public awareness helps with source reduction," Hu said. It's even more important, he said, because the department has had to cut back on its use of chemicals because of budget cuts.
Getting rid of standing water, whether in plant saucers or unused swimming pools, can help keep mosquitoes out of the sky and off of your skin, he said.
Prevention is also important to Gray. Besides general itchiness and discomfort mosquitoes bring with their bite, they can also carry diseases, such as the West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis and Eastern equine encephalitis.
It's been five years since a dead animal tested positive for the West Nile virus in Hernando, but Gray said that does not mean it is no longer a threat.
"The reason we want to emphasize prevention is because we know (West Nile) is here," Gray said.
Residents having problems with mosquitoes can call mosquito control at (352) 754-4060, and it can send technicians to treat the area. The department can either treat the area with chemicals or disperse "mosquito fish" in a pond to biologically control population growth. People can even pick up mosquito fish for free from mosquito control.
Hu encouraged people to visit the mosquito control Web site, www.co.hernando.fl.us/ mosquito, to learn about more ways they can help.
Michael Sanserino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1430.