Recent storms have brought much needed rain to Central Florida. But along with greener lawns and springtime blooms come the unwelcome mass of mosquitoes.
Mosquito control authorities in Orange and Volusia counties are breaking out their arsenal of trucks and helicopters rigged with spraying equipment to keep the insects at bay.
But Jim McNelly, director of the Volusia County Mosquito Control Division, said it's up to residents to make sure their homes aren't turned into breeding grounds.
The tiny bloodsuckers are a mainstay in soggier climates but it may be surprising to know just how little water is needed for mosquito populations to thrive. They can lay eggs and grow in water collected in objects as small as bottle caps left behind in the rain.
Volusia mosquito control is responsible for nearly 350,000 acres of land — most of it taken up by the salt marshes east of Interstate 95. But this season, authorities in both Volusia and Orange counties are placing extra emphasis on "container species" that can grow in residents' backyards.
McNelly said those "containers" could be anything from tree holes to bird baths, dog dishes and kid's toys.
"And those mosquitoes are active during the day," McNelly said. "They are out an about when you're out and about."
While most container mosquitoes are simply a nuisance for homeowners, one type – the Yellow Fever Mosquito – was linked to the spread of Dengue Fever in the Keys two years ago.
"There has been a resurgence of Yellow Fever Mosquitoes in Central Florida," McNelly said. "Though we've seen no connection (to the disease) here, we're vigilant."
Although Dengue Fever has not been a major issue in the past, Dain Weister, spokesman for the Orange County Health Department said it's important for residents to remember the two cases of West Nile Virus here in 2010. One of the infected died.
And although there were no cases reported in Orange in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 24 cases across Florida last year. Only eight states had more cases, the CDC reported.
"That's why it's so important for all of us to remember to protect ourselves," Weister said. "Not only can you get sick but in some cases you can die from it."
Both McNelly and Columbus Holland, supervisor of operations with Orange County Mosquito Control say those who are worried about the environmental affects of the nightly bug spraying can be at ease.
Minnows and bacteria that eat mosquito larvae before they take flight are used in the salt marshes in Volusia and once the bugs grow wings, the sprayers are loaded with Spinosad, a chemical that won the Designing Greener Chemicals Award in 2010.
Orange County uses a chemical called Permethrin, which Holland said is no more dangerous than household insecticide.
"It's the same as a can of Raid," he said. "Everything we use can be bought at Publix."
McNelly added that the widespread spraying makes life in Florida more bearable this time of year.
"There's a reason Mosquito Lagoon is called Mosquito Lagoon," he said. Without the counties' intervention, he said, the mosquito problem would be "almost intolerable."
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Coping with the swarm
Dress: Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect most of your skin.
Repellents: Apply mosquito repellent on skin not covered by clothing.
Outdoor activity: Avoid going outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
At home: Install or repair screens on both windows and doors.
For more information on mosquito-borne diseases, visit http://www.orchd.com or the Department of Health Environmental Health website at http://www.doh.state.fl.us/Environment/medicine/arboviral/index.html.
SOURCE: Orange County Health Department