This story is part of Untold Florida: Your Story, Your Neighborhood, a WUFT News series built from your questions. In the second half of this two-part edition, we will explore why some residents seem to be noticing more mosquitoes this year than in previous years. In the first part, we looked into the weather patterns of north central Florida and investigated why some areas consistently appear to receive less rain than others.
Several people have mentioned to Untold Florida that there seem to be more mosquitoes this year than normal.Above: Hear “Untold Florida” podcast host Henry Coburn report this and other stories about the effects of summer rain in and around Gainesville.
Alachua County Health Department environmental health director Anthony Dennis said high mosquito populations are due, at least in part, to standing water.
“It’s that time of the year, we have a lot of standing water around the county from summer rainfall,” Dennis said. “We’re actually still recovering from you know, hurricanes last year where we got a lot of, as you’ve noticed, the prairie is still flooded. So we’re getting a lot of mosquito breeding.”
However, mosquitoes aren’t just bad because they bite, they carry a variety of dangerous diseases: West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, Zika virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or Triple E, to name a few.
The Alachua Department of Health issued a warning at the end of July about Triple E because the department’s surveillance network detected the virus in the area using chickens.
According to Dennis, chickens are one of the ways the health department monitors for mosquito-borne illnesses.
“So we monitor mosquito activity in Alachua county several ways,” Dennis said. “One is we have sentinel chicken flocks. We have six flocks strategically placed around the county, and blood samples are collected from those sentinels weekly and tested for the presence for the antibody to certain mosquito-borne diseases.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Triple E kills about 30% of the people who contract it.
In addition to things like fevers, headaches and muscle aches, Triple E can cause more severe progressive problems, ranging from minimal brain dysfunction to personality disorders, seizures and paralysis.
Dennis said it is likely the virus ended up in the area because of the emu farms and the horse training and breeding in Alachua county.
Because of the virus’s presence in the area, the health department is reminding people to take precautions against mosquitoes.
Use insect repellant and cover up when outdoors, and avoid bodies of standing water.
“It’s amazing, you know, how small amount of water can breed a tremendous number of mosquitoes,” Dennis said.
Things like tires, flower pots, broken appliances, garbage cans and poorly maintained swimming pools can all become the spawning ground for mosquitoes.
Health officials agree that with the mosquito-borne illness in the area, it’s better to be safe than sorry.