BROOKSVILLE — As if Tropical Storm Debby's torrential rains didn't bring enough misery this week, Hernando County residents must now brace for an aftermath they probably would rather avoid — a massive mosquito outbreak.
According to the county's mosquito control manager, Dr. Gunagye Hu, residents can expect an explosion of the winged bloodsuckers over the next week or so as larvae hatch in low-lying areas swollen from the more than 15 inches of rain that fell last weekend and early this week.
"We're going to see many more mosquitoes than we would this time of the year because we have standing water in places where we don't normally have it," Hu said Friday.
Fighting the mega-outbreak is likely to be a tough task due to budget constraints, said Jesse Goodwin, assistant director of environmental services for the county. The county has budgeted just $630,000 for mosquito control this year — less than a quarter of what neighboring Citrus County budgets annually.
Goodwin said the county has six trucks with foggers and four employees to run them, which will likely mean his department will have to hire temporary workers to help pick up the slack.
"I have no doubt that we'll be out spraying just about anytime of the day for the next few weeks," Goodwin said.
Hu said he is less worried about the county's rivers and lakes than he is about low-lying places that rarely have standing water and aren't likely to have natural enemies that eat mosquito larvae.
Among the areas of greatest concern are low-lying lands just east of U.S. 19 and north of Cortez Boulevard, along Citrus Way north of Centralia Road, areas surrounding Masaryktown and the boggy regions in and around the city of Brooksville.
Although July is normally the height of the West Nile virus season, Hu doesn't view the increase in the mosquito population as an added threat. So far, none of the county's sentinel chickens have tested positive for the virus, which can be spread to humans and cause inflammation of the brain.
Hu said that he and his staff plan to step up monitoring of the county's 26 mosquito traps and six sentinel chicken sites in coming weeks as the weather gets warmer.
Meanwhile, Hu suggests that residents take precautions against mosquito bites, particularly during the dusk and dawn hours, when the insects are most active.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]