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As Tampa Bay area dries out, work for mosquito control just begins

TAMPA — In a trap in the shade in Sun City Center last week, 44,000 mosquitoes buzzed.

The blood-suckers congregated over 24 hours in the measuring tool regularly used by Hillsborough County Mosquito Control to monitor the population.

What wasn't so regular about the trap on that day: the mosquito collection rarely exceeds 100.

"Forty-four thousand is definitely not a number we want to see at all," said Carlos Fernandez, the county's mosquito control director. In his 15 years with the department, Fernandez said this is the worst mosquito event he has seen in such a short time.

The astronomical increase comes after weeks of unrelenting, record-breaking storms that flooded much of the Tampa Bay area and left water standing in back yards and fields, prime breeding habitat for dozens of breeds of mosquitoes.

"We finally ended up with about 25 to 27 inches (of rain) altogether," said Dennis Moore, director for Pasco County Mosquito Control. "That is literally twice the normal rainfall we'd get during a tropical storm event."

While public works departments have been evacuating flooded homes, repairing pipes and plugging depressions, their co-workers in mosquito control have been waiting.

"There were days when we weren't necessarily twiddling our thumbs," said Glen-Paul Edson, district operations manager for Pinellas mosquito control, "but there's only so much you can do when it's dumping that hard."

Now, after a string of several mostly dry days, it's go time.

"We are putting our guns on the street," Fernandez said.

For the past week, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have deployed en masse their arsenals of trucks, airplanes and helicopters to spread granular insecticide that kills mosquito larvae over large patches of standing water and fog that wipes out adult bugs over neighborhoods.

Officials in the three counties say they face a similar problem. While the rain fell in sheets, water accumulated too quickly for them to keep up. It takes only seven days for a mosquito larva to reach adulthood. Most regular prevention focuses on eliminating the larvae before they mature.

So now they're playing catch up, with the threat of disease looming.

"The game is just about to end and we are three goals behind," Fernandez said.

In Hillsborough County, at least 11 sentinel chickens have tested positive for West Nile virus, and another 12 cases have popped up in Pinellas.

"So far, the news is pretty good in Pasco County," said Moore, Pasco's director. The county has had no positive cases of West Nile, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause flu-like symptoms and be life-threatening in rare cases.

"That can change very quickly," Moore added.

And the longer the water sits, the warmer it gets, and the faster the mosquitoes multiply.

All three counties are doubling down on efforts to kill adult mosquitoes, but officials said residents can help by reporting standing water on their properties.

"With all this rain, that has increased our potential breeding habitats exponentially," Edson said. "We went from known locations to everybody's back yard."

His advice to homeowners: check everything — tires, watering cans, flowers pots and bird baths — for standing water, then dump it out.

Avoid going outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are on the prowl, he said, and if you must, wear light clothing and plenty of repellent.

"We're mosquito control, not eradication," Edson said. "They were really smart when they came up with the name a long time ago. They knew it's something you're never going to get rid of."

Contact Katie Mettler at or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.