Mosquito season isn't officially here yet, but they are starting to appear already.
And this year, there's a new question: can mosquitoes spread coronavirus?
If there's some good news, the answer is "no."
“It is something that we got several calls on, especially in the very beginning, people were concerned,” said Alissa Berro, environmental specialist at Pinellas County Mosquito Control. “Obviously, there wasn't a lot known about the virus in the very beginning, and everybody was catching up and figuring things out. But the World Health Organization came out pretty early on, stating that this was not a concern, as well as the American Mosquito Control Association.”
The reason is mosquitoes are immune to some viruses, so they cannot spread those. The coronavirus is one of them.
CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida
“There is no scientific evidence that would indicate mosquitoes are capable of transmitting COVID-19 to humans or other animals. Mosquitoes have an immune system themselves, and they have to become infected and then replicate that virus, typically in their salivary glands,” said RJ Montgomery, the director of Hillsborough County Mosquito Management Services. “There are a lot of pathogens that mosquitoes are unable to do that with, and COVID-19 is one.”
However, mosquitoes are carriers of other dangerous illnesses, including Zika, chikungunya, and even yellow fever types of illnesses, like malaria or dengue.
According to Berro, these diseases are not common for Florida and people are more likely to get them while traveling. In the current circumstances, with travel limted, Berro said they don’t expect many people to pick up those infections.
But other mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus and encephalitis occur more frequently in Florida. According to Montgomery, Hillsborough County has a program to monitor whether mosquitoes in the area are actively transmitting these diseases.
“We have a lot of our work done behind the scenes in an effort to protect the public health and that's really the reason that the program exists. It's a public health service. Mosquitoes can be tremendously detrimental not only to Florida, but throughout the world. And we always keep our eye on that potential,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said that inspectors are actively monitoring over 10,000 aquatic habitats that could be potential mosquito-breeding sites. They're also conducting helicopter inspections to see how much water is on the ground and spray areas with too many mosquitoes.
“We respond when we need to. And I can tell you that we maintain a mission-ready posture to aerial spray whenever it's needed,” said Montgomery. “I do see with all the rain we've had recently that there should be additional aerial missions this week.”
Pinellas County is also taking measures with a slightly different approach.
Besides monitoring places where mosquitoes typically breed, the county’s Mosquito Control uses larvicides to kill the mosquitoes before they become adults. They do not do aerial spraying, and they only use fogging when necessary.
“Fogging is only done when we reach a threshold of mosquitoes that is of concern for possibly spreading diseases or extreme nuisance for our residents, and then we will fog only the affected areas,” said Berro.
Counties also offer home inspections for their residents. Due to COVID-19, the workers are not allowed in the houses, but they can still inspect backyards.
“So as they [people] call and they report a high mosquito infestation, we will inspect the areas around the home and then we will contact the homeowner either by email or phone to let them know what we found. And we record all that information,” said Montgomery.
And there are things people can do to slow mosquito breeding.
“The biggest thing that you can do at home to protect yourself from mosquitoes is taking care of any kind of breeding sites and mosquitoes can actually breed in just a bottle cap of water, ” she said. “So if you're going out once a week on a regular basis and dumping out water, you're going to get rid of breeding around your home.”
Florida Department of Health offers guidelines on how to help prevent mosquito breeding:
- Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, pool covers, coolers, toys, flowerpots, buckets, watering cans, kiddie pools, and any other container where rainwater has collected.
- Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances, and other items that may collect water.
- Clean out rain gutters and downspouts regularly.
- Empty and clean birdbaths and pet water bowls at least once or twice a week.
- Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that do not accumulate water.
- Keep swimming pools in good condition, and maintain chlorination.
Mosquito control officials also suggest some ways people can protect from the bugs when going out, especially at dusk, dawn and night times:
- Wear long sleeves and long pants;
- Choose dark-colored clothing;
- Use mosquito repellent.
You can get more information about the mosquito situation in your county, as well as submit a request for service through the official mosquito control web pages:
Manatee - www.manateemosquito.com
Pasco - www.pascomosquito.org