If you’ve been in Florida looking around at the various retirement communities for more than 15 minutes, you have encountered the mosquito.
Dubbed “little fly” by early Spanish explorers, this flying pest can be found throughout the state. In fact, Florida has more species of mosquitoes than any other state. Currently, researchers at the University of Florida are tracking about 80 species in the state, 33 of which are considered “pests” to either humans or animals.
Reactions to mosquito bites range from momentary stinging, to welts and itching, to flu-like symptoms.
Female mosquitoes need blood to develop their eggs. When a mosquito “bites,” it is actually jabbing its straw-like proboscis into its victim and injecting a small amount of an anti-coagulant. This hastens blood flow, giving mosquitoes a quick, hit-and-run advantage. Some people have an allergic reaction to the anti-coagulant and that’s what makes them swell up or itch.
Mosquitoes can also spread disease. In Florida, about 13 of the 33 “pest” species act as disease vectors. The most important mosquito-borne diseases in Florida are St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, and West Nile virus encephalitis.
West Nile has also been reported in sentinel chickens in Escambia County, on the far side of the Florida panhandle.
Sentinel chickens in Pinellas County (St. Petersburg/ Tarpon Springs) also recently showed the presence of St. Louis encephalitis, but no human cases have been reported.
Also, for the first time since 1934, the tropical disease, dengue fever has been found in the state. The Key West occurrences have garnered national attention, but cases have also been reported in Marion and Martin Counties.
Most people will not be affected by these diseases. Few of those infected will realize it, and deaths are rare. People considered most at risk for contracting these diseases are the old, the very young, and people with compromised immune systems.
Still, statewide, officials have taken steps to increase mosquito abatement. This includes increased mosquito spraying and educating residents to “drain and cover.”
Drain and Cover
The Florida Department of Health’s drain and cover protocol stops mosquitoes from living and multiplying around your home or business.
Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.
• Discard: Old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
• Empty and clean: Birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.
• Protect: Boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.
• Maintain: The water balance (pool chemistry) of swimming pools. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
Don’t forget to check bird feeders, tire swings, and saucers from potted plants.
Cover your skin with clothing and use mosquito repellant.
• Clothing: If you must be outside when mosquitoes are active, cover up. Wear shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeves.
• Repellent: See guidelines below
Cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out.
• Repair broken screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
• Limit outdoor activity at when mosquitoes are most active. Avoid areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes.
• Contact your local mosquito control agency if there is a significant mosquito problem where you live or work.
• Fill in holes or dips in the ground that collect water. Level the ground around your home so water can run off.
• Stock your ornamental water garden with mosquito-eating fish (minnows, gambusia, goldfish, or guppies).
Garlic, Bananas, Vitamin B and Listerine – Mosquito Myths
The quest to repel mosquitoes is on-going. Backyard barbecuers, fisherman and other concerned Floridians have provided us with some interesting theories on mosquito abatement — gorge on garlic, rub banana peels over your skin, or spray the area with Listerine — but these stories are anecdotal. Those buzzing sound machines don’t work either.
According to entomologists at the University of Florida, the only proven way to repel mosquitoes is with mosquito repellent. Repellents came in sprays, wipe-ons, sticks, foams, lotions, and impregnated materials like wristbands. Repellents containing DEET (chemical name, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are considered effective.
General Repellent Guidelines
Repellents do ward off mosquitoes, but BE SURE TO READ THE LABELS! Not all repellents are appropriate for all people.
Apply insect repellent to exposed skin or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
Not all repellents are suitable for children
• Mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3 years.
• DEET is not recommended on children younger than 2 months old.
For more on how to use repellent safely, and ingredient information, see the FAQ from the Center for Disease Control.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of mosquitoes, you can see images of the critters and learn about the mosquitoes in your area at the Florida Mosquito Database, maintained by the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.