Biting truth: Summer mosquitoes take flight as bad season continues - POLL

Dan Weeks, an inspector with the Collier County Mosquito Control District, searches for mosquito larvae in a water sample from the drainage ditch along North Road on Friday, July 22, 2011, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

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Dan Weeks, an inspector with the Collier County Mosquito Control District, searches for mosquito larvae in a water sample from the drainage ditch along North Road on Friday, July 22, 2011, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

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— Southwest Florida remains on track for a record-breaking season, but instead of breaking out the champagne, you might want to reach for the “Off.”

“I think we’re heading for beating our record,” said Shelley Redovan, deputy director for the Lee County Mosquito Control District. “It’s been a tough season – a challenging season. We are getting a lot more calls” from people who want something done about the level of mosquito infestation.

“We call them ‘service requests,’ and for the first 21 days of July, we’ve had 2,558,” she said late last week. “As of lunchtime today, we are up to 7,312 for the year.”

In addition to logging calls, the department counts mosquitoes in traps, and does landing rate counts, where mosquito district employees try to count the number who try to feed off them in a 60-second period.

“Once you get to 100 a minute, you can’t really count,” Redovan said. “One poor gentleman the other night, all he could do was grab the trap, throw it in the truck and run. The last time we had conditions like this was in 1997 and ’98. Those two years were kind of rough for us.”

Mosquitoes in the area break down into saltwater and freshwater varieties, and Southwest Florida is well-supplied with both. Paradoxically, the dry conditions earlier this year provided optimal conditions for saltwater mosquitoes to hatch their eggs.

Now that summer rains have taken hold, freshwater mosquitoes are on the rise, said Frank van Essen, executive director of the Collier Mosquito Control District.

“Each year is different,” depending on rainfall and wind patterns, he said. “This year, we’ve had higher numbers of salt marsh mosquitoes. The last couple of years were a little less active,” making this season seem worse by comparison, said van Essen, characterizing this as “a fairly bad year.”

Fittingly enough when combating a flying foe, the Collier mosquito district wages an air war against the mosquito. Anyone who has lived in Naples long enough shares the memory of being awakened at dawn by a string of DC-3s roaring overhead at treetop level, prompting the belief we were being attacked by a foreign nation.

It’s been 10 years since Collier mosquito control last flew the DC-3, and the agency has gone to low-volume spraying from a much quieter Skyvan aircraft and helicopters.

The Lee County district relies solely on helicopters, with 10 of 12 currently in service.

“A lot of people don’t even realize we’re flying at night. Fifteen years ago, we put out a big cloud of fog, with 20 ounces of insecticide per acre, mixed with diesel fuel. Now, it’s just insecticide, at a half-ounce per acre,” van Essen said.

Because his district abuts the Everglades and protected natural areas, there are limits to what the agency can do to control insect populations, van Essen said.

“They can fly a long way, and the prevailing breezes carry them. A lot come from the Everglades,” he said. One trap near Collier-Seminole State Park once collected 260,000 mosquitoes in a single night, all of the salt marsh variety, he said. In downtown Naples, a couple thousand per trap per night is more common.

The mosquito of greatest concern, van Essen said, is culex nigripalpus, a freshwater species that is the principal carrier of West Nile virus. This can prove fatal to humans. Last year, there was one fatality in Collier County, out of two known cases of the disease. Older people, or those with compromised immune systems, are the most vulnerable, he said.

In addition, mosquitoes in this area can carry eastern equine encephalitis, which can affect both humans and horses. Last year, Collier had no human cases, but four horses were diagnosed with triple-E, and all died. Statewide, the four humans with triple-E all succumbed to the disease, van Essen said.

Mosquitoes also can transmit dengue fever, with 65 cases recorded last year in Key West, as well as dog heartworms, he said. All dog and horse owners should take advantage of the medications that are available to prevent the animal maladies, he said.

Humans, though, are largely left slapping their arms and legs, protecting themselves by not getting bitten.

Van Essen recommended the “five Ds:” Avoid dusk and dawn, dress appropriately (with long sleeves and light colors), drain standing water such as tires and buckets, and use insect repellent containing DEET.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

happy6 writes:

on marco our council and city mgr will "study" the situation a while longer...then hire an outside consulting firm to verify that we have a problem...then they should have all approvals in place by december....and will try and get council to approve spraying.

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