The Lee County Mosquito Control District predicts that a large mosquito outbreak is coming as a result of heavy rain and continued flooding from Hurricane Irma. Thursday night marked the district’s first aerial spraying to tackle the adult mosquito population since the storm’s passage.
“Prior to that we had been monitoring to see when the adults were starting to come off and that first hatch was a couple days before that,” said Lee County Mosquito Control District Deputy Director Shelly Redovan. “So, people had a couple days of mosquitos before we could start our treatment.”
The District’s highest priority now is working to mitigate adult mosquito populations via aerial spraying in areas of the county where the most residents are still dealing with standing floodwaters and power outages.
Typically, mosquitos known to carry diseases like West Nile Virus and St. Louis encephalitis are known to propagate in freshwater environments, but now those mosquito varieties can move into the county’s 56,000 acres of salt marsh as well.
“Where the large-scale problem for us will be the flood land areas, both salt and more inland,” said Redovan. “The salt marshes have enough floodwater that is fresh that the salinity has dropped enough that it can support our freshwater flood mosquitos. And then you have large areas of floodwater mosquitos coming in Bonita, North Fort Myers and Lehigh, those areas.”
Flooded roads and storm debris are hampering the agency’s ground surveillance work. That, plus the cost of chemicals to kill mosquito larvae, the expansive area that floodwaters currently cover and the proximity of larvae-laden floodwaters to people’s homes makes an effective application of larvicide nearly impossible.
“We just don’t have enough helicopters to be able to get out to all the areas that are flooded right now,” said Redovan. “Our budget just won’t cover that, so that kind of leaves us to our primary tool being the adulticiding which we can do at night and that way there’s less people who would be out and about.”
The District’s surveillance efforts to monitor for the presence of mosquito-borne diseases by running blood tests on sentinel chickens are also getting back to normal after Irma.
“We had to pull all of our chickens in, keeping them monitored in an area where they couldn’t get bit by mosquitoes, and they are just going back out in the field, said Redovan. “So we did have a slight break, but they should be out in the field, most by this week if not by next week so that we should have them ready to let us know if there is virus activity going on.”
Redovan said wearing insect repellant and protective clothing remain the best way to avoid mosquito bites. She also urges those with storm-damaged homes to get their porch and lanai screens repaired as soon as possible to help reduce exposure to mosquitos.