With more than 200 confirmed travel-related Zika virus cases throughout Florida, Pinellas County Mosquito Control is utilizing various tools to combat mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.
In eight locations across Pinellas County, there are a total of 56 sentinel chickens. Their job is to alert Mosquito Control officials to viruses present in various areas.
Last year, 53 chickens tested positive for the West Nile Virus. The areas affected were treated and there was only one person diagnosed with the virus.
The chickens are susceptible to West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and St. Louis Encephalitis. This year there has been no activity in the sentinel chicken population so far.
There have been six confirmed cases of people with the Zika virus in Pinellas County.
These cases are considered “imported” by Mosquito Control, meaning they did not originate or get spread by a mosquito in Florida.
Rob Krueger is an entomology and education support specialist for the Pinellas County Mosquito Control. He says that the primary practice in the fight against mosquitoes is for residents to dump out shallow and stagnant water.
“Drain those containers, tell your neighbors to drain those containers,” he said. “If there are no mosquitoes, we don’t get bit.”
Krueger said that Mosquito Control also provides a call-in line for residents and the county responds within two days.
There are eight fogging trucks and 12 spray techs who respond to those calls. They will provide different services, including treating the area with larvicide, searching for mosquito breeding grounds and using environmentally safe options like mosquitofish.
Mosquitofish, real name Gambusia Halibrook, is a popular option.
“We like using them because they are actually an endemic species to our ecosystem anyway,” Krueger said. “So even if they were to get out into some of our major environmental areas, nothing would actually become a problem that way, as far as invasive species.”
Mosquito Control can drop off mosquitofish into pools that have been left unfiltered and without chlorine. The fish are sustainable, monitoring their own population according to food source, and keep the area almost completely mosquito free, said Krueger.
This year the cases for Zika are expected to rise. Krueger dismissed products like citronella candles, ultrasonic devices and smartphone apps, saying that they do not help families stay safe.
He said that instead, people should treat areas that frequently collect water with products containing B.T.I. (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), which can be found in most home improvement stores.