With the increase in rainfall during the early months of 2010, many ponds and lakes are fuller than in the past few years and the aquifers have had a chance to recover. This additional rainfall has kept the Pasco County Mosquito Control District busier than normal during our typically dry months and hoping you didn't notice more mosquitoes throughout the first half of the year.
Mosquito season swings into high gear with summer rains. During daytime hours you will likely see our staff inspecting and treating roadside ditches and flooded fields. You might also see our orange helicopters treating the mosquito larvae that are developing in the shallow bodies of water throughout the county or hear our airplane overhead during the evening hours treating the adult mosquitoes that managed to emerge.
Another focus of the field inspectors is to help our residents locate and identify containers on their property that can potentially hold water and breed mosquitoes, such as abandoned boats, buckets, tires, cups, etc. You can help by removing any of these containers that will likely create problems for you and your neighbors.
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 draw blood from sentinel chickens located in cages distributed throughout the county and deliver the blood to the Department of Health's Tampa 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 which may be present.
Last week, officials confirmed a case of Eastern equine encephalitis in an east Pasco horse. The disease is rare in humans, but if a person contracts the illness it can be serious and sometimes fatal. The Florida Department of Agriculture is urging horse owners to make sure that their animals are vaccinated against West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis.
And, after a 65-year absence, dengue fever has returned to Key West. Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the mosquito-borne virus has been identified in 28 people from Key West. It is important to note that these were locally acquired cases, meaning they were bitten by local mosquitoes in Key West, not just imported cases of humans getting off an airplane already infected.
People get the dengue virus from the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. It is not contagious from person to person. This disease is also called break-bone fever because it sometimes causes severe joint and muscle pain that feels like bones are breaking.
Dengue infects as many as 100 million people worldwide each year. Dengue infections are commonly reported from most tropical countries of the South Pacific, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. This dramatic rise in Key West could lie with increased travel between the United States and South and Central America and the Caribbean — areas which have seen nearly 5 million cases of dengue fever from 2000-07. After such a prolonged absence in the United States, these local cases are a cause for concern for Florida residents.
Also, don't forget your pets. Dog heart worm, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is very common in our area, so preventive medication for your dog is highly recommended.
The Health Department advises the public to remain diligent in protecting themselves from mosquito bites by following the five D's:
• Dusk and dawn. Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are biting.
• Dress. Wear clothing that covers most of your skin.
• DEET. Use repellents containing DEET. (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 are other repellents.
• Drainage. Check around your home to rid the area of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
Using repellents can help protect against being bitten by a mosquito. Read label directions carefully for the approved usage before applying a repellent to skin. Some repellents are not suitable for children. According to the CDC, mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3. DEET is not recommended on children younger than 2 months.
One word of advice: Don't waste your money on bug zappers. They kill many insects, but do a very poor job of controlling mosquitoes. Visit our website at www.pascomosquito.org for more information.
Dennis Moore is the director of the Pasco County Mosquito Control District.