Due to drought, mosquitoes are less of a problem

A mosquito on the end of a pair of tweezers.

Jon Fletcher/Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.

The usual summertime swarms of mosquitoes have been mostly missing from Alachua County this year, and with them the diseases they transmit.

Paul Myers, assistant director of the Alachua County Health Department, said no cases of mosquito-related diseases have been reported so far this year.

"We've been somewhat fortunate in that we have not detected eastern equine encephalitis or West Nile virus in our surveillance system," Myers said. "We have sentinel chickens and mosquito traps, and we don't have any human or animal cases, so in terms of disease we are doing well."

The rest of the state also is doing relatively well this year.

Officials at the University of Florida's Medical Entomology Lab in Vero Beach track such diseases and reported that fewer cases have been found this year.

Among the diseases that have been reported were one case of eastern equine encephalitis in a horse in Marion County and 11 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in Duval County, according to the UF lab.

Those are the nearest cases to Alachua County.

Roxanne Connelly, a medical entomologist at the lab, said four people died in the state last year from eastern equine encephalitis, while none have died this year.

"We typically see equine cases every year. One to five human cases a year is about average for Florida," Connelly said. "Once the virus gets in and starts taking over the human cell machinery, it just starts increasing. You see a mosquito and think it's so small, how can it create such trouble?"

Florida's spring drought delayed the onset of mosquito season. Once the usual summer weather pattern of afternoon rain set in, mosquitoes that have drought-resistant eggs started hatching.

Karen St. Pierre, who oversees mosquito control for the city of Gainesville, said the city has sprayed much less this year than it typically does.

But St. Pierre added that even a little bit of rain can produce the pests if it gets caught in containers around houses such as bird baths or empty flower pots.

"With the lack of rainfall and the drought situation, that produces practically no mosquitoes," St. Pierre said. "People need to check containers around their house and empty them out, because that is probably where the mosquitoes are coming from."

Residents also should avoid outside activity during the early morning and late evening hours, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent, St. Pierre said.

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