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Hillsborough officials ask residents to help prevent mosquito-borne illnesses from spreading

Man stands over a bromeliad plant and looks down
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media
Eric Long supervises mosquito management in Hillsborough County. He inspects a bromeliad plant for signs of mosquito larvae.

West Nile virus was recently detected, and there's been a rise in travel-related cases of dengue. Here's some ways to protect yourself and your community.

Tampa-area officials are warning residents about an increase in mosquito-borne illness activity and asking them to do their part in prevention.

On Wednesday morning, Eric Long, Hillsborough County's mosquito management supervisor, walked around a resident's yard in Lutz looking for places where the biting bugs may want to lay their eggs.

bromeliad plants
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media

He pointed out pools of water in a garbage can lid, kayak and what he calls his prime suspects: bromeliad plants.

“Just a little bit of it [water] in any crevice inside of this plant right here could be a massive breeding ground as well, so this is like number one on the hit list right here,” Long said.

Long and his team typically spend their days conducting similar inspections on properties around the county in the hopes of containing the mosquito population that booms every rainy season.

It’s especially important when mosquito-borne illnesses are detected in the community as they have been recently.

Sentinel chickens in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties have recently tested positive for West Nile virus. These birds are placed around the community to detect diseases spread by mosquitoes, but they don’t actually get sick. No human cases have been reported in the Tampa Bay region.

flipped over garbage can lid filled with water in a backyard
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media
Garbage can lids, gutters and all sorts of objects can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes if they're left to collect standing water.

Hillsborough is also seeing a lot more cases of dengue this summer, according to Ryan L. Terry, public information officer with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.

There have been approximately 20 cases in the last three months, he said, compared to only five or six last summer. There hasn’t been any local transmission yet. All cases have been travel-related, mostly in people who visited Caribbean countries like Cuba.

The rise could be due, in part, to increased international travel now that pandemic restrictions have eased.

“Both dengue and West Nile virus start with flu-like symptoms so if you have traveled, specifically to a region, say a tropical, subtropical region, and you have flu-like symptoms, definitely want to go see your primary care provider or go to an emergency room in order to get tested,” Terry said.

iron firepit filled with a pool of water
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media
These days it's usually too hot to sit around the firepit, so mosquito control officials suggest bringing yours inside so it doesn't collect standing water.

None of the dengue cases have been the severe kind that can lead to bleeding, Terry said, but he still cautions residents to be vigilant.

The county is advising residents to drain standing water on their properties. Long acknowledged it can be tedious to walk around your property addressing every issue, so he advises residents to bring things inside that they don’t plan to use often.

For example, a portable firepit sat neglected in the backyard of the Lutz home and was filled with water. Long suggested bringing that inside until the weather cools down, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

Those who suspect infestations near their homes can reach out to the county for help. Mosquito management staff like Long can come inspect their property and potentially treat the area with pesticides if they deem it necessary.

Health officials also advise residents to protect themselves by covering their skin with long layers and insect repellant.

Resources

For more tips on mosquito prevention, visit Hillsborough County's mosquito control webpage.

If you're interested in receiving mosquito control services from the county, contact the public works department at (813) 635-5400.

Here's some more information about West Nile virus and dengue from the Centers for Disease Control and 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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