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Storms' residue: an itchy nuisance

As hurricanes come and go, so follow the blood suckers.

Thousands of mosquitoes have begun to hatch from eggs laid in puddles, standing water and gutters clogged with storm debris throughout Hernando County.

County mosquito control officials didn't have numbers indicating how large the mosquito population had grown by Friday. Staffers have just begun to set traps after the recent storms, said mosquito control director Dr. Guangye Hu.

But Hu expects the rest of the mosquito season to bear far more insects than in years past.

The mosquito-borne West Nile virus has yet to make an appearance in either humans or animals in Hernando this season, and county officials would like to keep it that way. Statewide, 27 cases of West Nile had been confirmed in residents of seven counties as of Sept. 11, according to the state Health Department.

The recent spate of storms and the spike in mosquitoes have prompted mosquito control to ask the county for additional help _ which means more money. Mosquito control plans to ask the County Commission this week to approve an added budget expense _ $31,400 _ for a second mosquito crew to spray nightly over the next two months.

Currently, mosquito control has one crew, consisting of five people, deployed each night. And lately they have been working quite a bit of overtime, Hu said.

"We have limited resources," he said. "Mosquito population is up, and this year it's worse. Hurricanes make it worse, but every year after the heavy rains we deal with a higher population of mosquitoes."

If the commission approves the budget request, Hu plans to add the extra night shift starting Sept. 27, before the start of the 2004-05 budget year.

Hernando County's first indicator that mosquito populations have grown is the rate at which the phone rings at the mosquito control office. Usually, the office receives a dozen calls a day. On Wednesday and Thursday, they got 80 to 90 calls each day, Hu said.

Mosquito control has responded accordingly, adding daytime sprayings of rural areas to help diminish populations. The crew is also spraying more at nighttime.

In addition, chemicals are being added to standing water to kill mosquito larvae, Hu said.

Mosquito populations appear to have grown much worse on the county's east side, close to the Withlacoochee River, Hu said. By contrast, populations have not sprung up as fast in Spring Hill, because the sandy soil absorbs water more efficiently.

"Wherever you get flooding, you get bad mosquitoes," Hu said.

The storms have helped strengthen a species of mosquitoes _ Hu calls them "bad biters" _ that is active during daylight hours. That is another reason why mosquito control has added some daytime spraying. However, the species is not the kind that carries West Nile virus, Hu said.

Residents should carefully monitor their property for standing water, especially puddles hidden by downed limbs and branches, said Al Gray, the county Health Department's director of environmental health. Boat covers and gutters also make good mosquito breeding grounds.

"Remove anything that holds water, even as small as a little bottle cap of water," Gray said.

He advised residents to remain indoors from dusk until dawn. Those who must go out should wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and use insect repellent with the chemical DEET.

Times news researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.

MOSQUITO BITES

+ There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes worldwide. Florida is home to 76 species. One more prominent species locally is the salt marsh mosquito (Ochlerotatus taeniorhynchusb), which thrives near mangroves. Biologists estimate that as many as 4-million can be produced in 1 acre of salt marsh.

+ Mosquitoes feed on blood and other liquids. They spread some of the world's deadliest diseases, including dengue, encephalitis, malaria and yellow fever.

+ Females lay 50 to 200 eggs at a time. Their life span is two to three months.

Sources: Nancy Page, program manager, Pinellas County Mosquito Control and Vegetation Management; World Book Online Reference Center

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