By Rachel Christian
There’s an old saying about death and taxes being life’s only guarantees. Florida summertime brings a pair of its own guarantees – humidity and mosquitoes.
After a week of steady rainfall, the biting bugs are back in full force to usher in another mosquito season in Osceola County.
The role of preventing and mitigating the severity of the insects falls to Mosquito Control, a program within the county’s Natural Resources Department headed by Director Terry Torrens.
Mosquitoes can be pesky, but Torrens said her department’s first priority is public health, not nuisance abatement.
“Mosquitoes tend to be annoying, but the reality is mosquitoes carry disease,” Torrens said. “We want to protect our citizens and visitors from being exposed to any possible mosquito-borne viruses.”
But the insects, which thrive in Central Florida’s humid, wet climate, far outnumber Torren’s 12-person staff at Mosquito Control. For this reason, Torrens emphasized how important it is for residents to do their part.
“Many times when we get called to a home that has reported issues, it turns out they are breeding their own mosquitoes without even realizing it,” she said.
Mosquito larva grows in stagnate water. Torrens recommended residents turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water on their property, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, tarps, flowerpots, or trash containers once a week. When it comes to items such as birdbaths and pet food bowls, residents should change the water on a regular basis as well.
Preventing the birth of mosquitoes is vital to keeping the pest population low. Once conditions get warm and rainy though, the bugs always appear.
That’s when the county relies on Mosquito Control to use methods like land-based and aerial fogging to help mitigate the problem.
Weather this year is drier than 2017, Torrens noted, which has kept the bugs at bay longer than usual. Since heavy rain dominated the forecast this week, Torrens expects a mosquito breed-off to boom over the next week or so.
Fogging by the county is conducted at night throughout the summer using methods and chemicals that are highly regulated by several agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Agriculture.
If mosquito populations get too high, the county also contracts with an aerial spraying service that can treat swamps and other high-population zones.
When it comes to mosquito season in Florida, Torrens said residents don’t need to be scared, just use common sense precautions.
Applying effective bug repellent that contain active ingredients like DEET should be “the new normal.”
“We put sunblock on when we know we’re going to be outside, so it’s important to make mosquito repellent part of the routine as well,” Torrens said.
Other measures, including regularly reapplying repellent and wearing long sleeves, can also cut down on mosquito bites and the spread of disease.
Torrens said Mosquito Control receives about $40,000 a year in funding from the state agriculture department. Two years ago, the state awarded a much larger sum to help local counties make upgrades in the wake of Zika virus outbreaks in South America.
The extra funding stopped once Zika was no longer classified as an emergency by the state, but Torrens said that additional money helped make much-needed upgrades to equipment.
“It really did help out smaller programs like mine where I was able to invest in a whole bunch of additional equipment and update the stuff we were running,” she said.