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Pasco, Citrus Mosquito Control Workers Warn Of Increased Risk For Equine Encephalitis

A mosquito perched on skin.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Experts advise residents to avoid bites by using insect repellant, protective clothing and by taking steps to keep mosquitoes off their property.

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 for Eastern equine encephalitis in recent weeks, which is a rare but deadly mosquito-borne illness.

Only a very small portion of people bit by a mosquito carrying the virus actually develop the disease each year. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about a third of those who do end up dying, and many survivors suffer brain damage.

Adriane Rogers, director of Pasco County'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.

Infographic depicting the transmission cycle of Eastern equine encephalitis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Sentinel chickens testing positive in the community means there is an increased risk of transmission in humans.

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

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. She recommends using insect repellant and protective clothing to guard the skin, and said people should also 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 County residents can track where teams are spraying on the district website. Citrus County residents can do so here.

Follow this link for more tips on mosquito prevention.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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