Mosquito season is swinging into high gear.
With the increase in summer rainfall, many of the ponds and lakes will swell, the aquifers will have a chance to recover and many of the fields, pastures and marshes will flood. This annual cycle keeps the Pasco County Mosquito Control District personnel busy during these wet months as we battle the hungry pests.
The district's mission is to protect the health and well-being of the citizens of Pasco County through the prevention and control of mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases. Our task of locating and controlling mosquitoes and preventing you from becoming a blood meal is taken very seriously. Major rain and wet conditions cause freshwater mosquitoes, the kind that carry human diseases, to thrive.
The time from egg hatch to adult emergence takes about one week. When adult mosquitoes emerge, they can fly several miles in search of blood. Only the female bites. This is the protein she needs for her next batch of eggs — about 100 per batch. The eggs of certain mosquito species can lie dormant for months, so with the return of heavy rains, the eggs can hatch virtually all at once, creating a mosquito explosion.
During daytime hours our staff inspects and treats roadside ditches and flooded fields. Our orange helicopters treat the mosquito larvae that are developing in the shallow bodies of water throughout the county. Another focus of the field inspectors is to help our residents locate and identify containers on their property that hold water that could potentially breed mosquitoes, such as abandoned boats, buckets, tires and cups. The type of mosquitoes that develop in these containers won't fly far, but it will be enough to bother you and your neighbors. Take a good look around your property and remove anything that could potentially hold water, since it will very likely produce mosquitoes if left alone.
Besides being a major nuisance, mosquitoes are capable of transmitting several diseases. The district currently tests for Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus. Every week during the mosquito season, staff members draw blood from sentinel chickens in cages distributed throughout the county and deliver the blood to the Department of Health's Tampa branch lab for analysis. If a virus is detected, that area of the county is thoroughly inspected to find and eliminate mosquito breeding sources and any larval or adult mosquitoes.
Until recently, a locally contracted case of dengue fever had not been seen in Florida since 1934. That changed in 2009, when doctors in Key West began seeing it in people who had not traveled outside the area.
It is important to note that these were locally acquired cases, meaning they were bitten by mosquitoes in Key West, not imported cases of humans getting off an airplane already infected. Dengue is considered a serious public health threat in Key West, Hawaii, south Texas and other Florida counties where it has been reported.
Don't forget your pets. Dog heartworm, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is very common in our area, so preventive medication for your dog is highly recommended. Also, the Florida Department of Agriculture is urging horse owners to make sure that their animals are vaccinated against two of the diseases — West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis.
To prevent mosquito-borne diseases, the Florida Department of Health recommends that you:
• Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying. Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
• Empty and clean birdbaths and pets' water bowls at least once or twice a week.
• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.
• Maintain the water balance (pool chemistry) of swimming pools and empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
• If you must be outside when mosquitoes are active, cover up. Wear shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeves. Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing. Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective. Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months.
• Keep mosquitoes out of your house. Repair broken screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios. Visit our website at www.pascomosquito.org for more information.
Dennis Moore is director of the Pasco County Mosquito Control District.