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Tampa plans to 'dunk' mosquito breeding grounds to fight spread of Zika virus

TAMPA — After falling into disrepair over several years, the vacant house on Elcoe Drive has an upcoming date with a wrecking ball.

But with the Zika virus casting a new focus on the threat from mosquitoes, it is the dank, murky water in the swimming pool out back that is now seen as the greatest hazard.

With about 3,300 foreclosed properties in the city limits, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced Monday that the city is going on the offensive to reduce mosquito breeding grounds around vacant homes.

Its chief weapon will be briquets known as dunks that, when dropped into abandoned pools and other standing water, kill mosquito larvae for up to 30 days.

"In light of what has been going on around the state of Florida, we decided not to wait for the politicians in Washington, D.C., to act. We're going to take action ourselves," Buckhorn said. "We can be proactive in terms of negating the environment in which mosquitoes breed."

The city has purchased 3,600 of the small doughnut-like briquets at a cost of about $5,000. They will be given to 45 code inspectors and 38 neighborhood services workers to drop in pools, retention ponds and swales as the workers go around the city.

Tampa is also asking residents to help by reporting properties where there are stagnant pools and other standing water.

The briquets, commonly used by organic farmers, contain Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. One briquet can treat 100 square feet of surface water.

Hillsborough County code officers used about 540 dunks in the last three months, almost all of them in swimming pools, county officials said.

The Elcoe Drive home in Tampa's Wellswood neighborhood highlights the obstacles the city must clear to be able to demolish decaying homes and tackle abandoned pools.

Neighbors say the home, which has an absentee owner, was vacant for several years. But the city cannot enter or take control of abandoned properties until it has followed a lengthy legal process.

Awareness of the threat from Zika was heightened Friday when Gov. Rick Scott announced that mosquitoes are now actively spreading the virus in Miami Beach. Previously, the airborne spread of the virus was confined to a 1-mile area north of downtown Miami.

The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where babies are born with smaller than normal heads. But even when skulls are fully developed, the virus may hinder brain growth and lead to autism, mental retardation, seizures, hearing loss and vision problems, according to Charles Lockwood, the dean of the University of South Florida's medical school.

As of Friday, Florida had more than 500 Zika cases, according to the Florida Department of Health, 36 of which were likely the result of mosquito bites. There have been no cases of the virus being spread by mosquitoes in the Tampa Bay area.

How to help

Tampa residents who see abandoned pools or other standing water where mosquitoes could breed should call the city at (813) 274-5545.

Tampa plans to 'dunk' mosquito breeding grounds to fight spread of Zika virus 08/22/16 [Last modified: Monday, August 22, 2016 9:34pm]
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