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Pasco, Citrus Facing Increased Risk Of Mosquitoes Carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis

The rare but deadly mosquito-borne illness was detected in sentinel chickens in both counties in recent weeks.

Pasco and Citrus county officials are urging residents to protect themselves against mosquitoes. Sentinel chickens in both counties have tested positive in recent weeks for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a rare but deadly mosquito-borne illness.

Only a very small portion of people bit by a mosquito carrying the virus develop the disease. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about a third of those die and many survivors suffer brain damage.

Adriane Rogers, director of Pasco's Mosquito Control District, said her team routinely monitors chicken flocks to act as early warning systems for spotting mosquito-borne illnesses like the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, which cycles between birds and mosquitoes.

Rogers said they see some evidence of transmission every year, but right now are seeing higher levels of the virus than normal.

 Sentinel chickens testing positive in the community means there is an increased risk of transmission in humans.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention /
Sentinel chickens testing positive in the community means there is an increased risk of transmission in humans.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Health in Citrus County warned several chickens had tested positive there as well.

Rogers said the recent dry weather spell in the region is likely a factor.

"The drought conditions really cause sort of a perfect storm for amplification and transmission of the virus," she explained.

"During these drought periods, mosquitos and birds are coming together in very limited water sources, and the mosquitos are picking up the virus from biting the infected birds, and then it's the mosquito that transmits it to humans outside of those swampy areas, so the more birds and mosquitoes you have spending time together, the increased chances of higher transmission levels."

Rogers advises residents "drain and cover" to avoid bites: Use insect repellant and protective clothing to guard the skin and take steps to keep mosquitos off their property.

"Anything that can collect and hold water for a couple of days can and will bring mosquitos," said Rogers. "So things like flower pots and plant trivets around your yards, coolers, garbage cans, children's toys, etc., you want to be checking them and emptying them out of water every couple of days."

Mosquito control teams are searching for breeding grounds and conducting treatment in the community. Pasco residents can track where teams are spraying on the district website. Citrus residents can do so here.

Follow this link for more tips on mosquito prevention.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.