Sheila Dunning, Okaloosa Commercial Horticulture Agent
With all the news about the Zika virus spread in Florida, now is the time to start thinking about mosquito protection. As the weather warms, they will be hatching. Check out where the water is collecting around the farm and in your yard. The female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes lay their eggs in temporary flood water pools; even very small ones such as pet watering bowls, bird baths, and upturned Magnolia or Oak leaves. Dumping out the collection containers and raking through the leaves every couple of days can greatly reduce the population.
Becoming infected with Zika virus is not common. Though the disease can be transmitted by mosquitoes, blood transfusions, or sex, the only know infections in Florida were from people who had been “bitten” by mosquitoes while traveling to countries with active virus outbreaks. That is until this past week, when a person to person infection occurred between a man that had been infected while out of the country and the woman he returned to in Florida. Mosquitoes usually obtain the virus by feeding on infected people, who may not exhibit any symptoms because they have been exposed and their body has built an immunity to the virus. Once the mosquito has drawn infected blood from the person, the infected mosquito “bites” another human, transmitting the virus mixed in saliva into the blood stream of the second host. If the second host is a susceptible pregnant woman, there is a risk of birth defects for the unborn child. If the infected host is a man, he can transmit the virus in semen for about two weeks.
Government public health officials here in Florida are able to monitor mosquito-borne illnesses quickly and effectively. Though the daily news can be alarming, the awareness is truly the message.
To protect yourself and reduce the sources for mosquitoes to breed, here are a few pointers:
- Stay indoors at dusk (peak mosquito biting time).
- If you must be outside, wear long sleeves and pants and/or mosquito repellents containing the active ingredient DEET.
- Repair torn door and window screens.
- Remove unnecessary outside water sources.
- Flush out water collected in outdoor containers every 3-4 days.
- Disturb or remove leaf litter, including roof gutters and covers on outdoor equipment.
- Apply larvicides, such as Bacillus thuriengensis israelensis (BTI) to temporary water holding areas and containers.
The mosquitoes have been around all winter with the milder weather and frequent rain. As spring approaches they will be laying eggs on all the water surfaces they can find. As you venture out into the yard or travel to the great outdoors, remember to protect yourself and look at all the ways you can remove the potential habitats for the pesky creatures.
Here are two UF/IFAS Publications with more information on this topic: