To humans and domestic animals, mosquitoes are a nuisance and a health hazard capable of transmitting a variety of diseases called arboviruses. The main diseases we are concerned about are Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile virus. Most people that become ill have mild symptoms including headache, fever, dizziness, and fatigue, but severe neurological symptoms are also possible. Although mosquito diseases can cause serious illnesses and even death in people of any age, children and those over 50 are at the most risk for severe disease. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact your physician immediately. Remember, avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to prevent disease.
What You Can Do to Prevent Infection
Prevention is the key. The best way to avoid infection is to avoid getting mosquito bites. The Florida Department of Health recommends the use of the "Five D's" of prevention:
- Dress appropriately. The use of barrier clothing to prevent mosquito bites includes long sleeve shirts, pants, and socks.
- Avoid outdoor activities during dusk and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active.
- If you must be outdoors, cover up by wearing shoes, socks, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts, and use mosquito repellent with DEET. DEET is a chemical that is used in a variety of commercial products and repels mosquitoes. Use in accordance with package directions (more is not necessarily better) and re-apply, as needed, on skin that will be exposed.
- Drain. With the return of our summer rain fall patterns, we have significant amounts of standing water. Gutters, flowerpots, birdbaths, and virtually any container can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Remove or empty water in old tires, tin cans, buckets, drums, bottles, and any other containers. Make sure cisterns, cesspools, septic tanks, fire barrels, rain barrels and trash containers are covered tightly with a lid or with 16-mesh screen.
Other things which may help are the use of citronella candles or torches around outdoor activities, if there is little air movement. However, the best control measures are removing the potential breeding areas in standing water.
What You Can Do to Help
The mosquito that bit you last night may have hatched right in your own backyard!
- Look for places where rainwater collects and stands. Mosquitoes also hide in heavy grasses or other vegetation.
- Check items such as flowerpots, children's wading pools and toys, birdbaths and fountains, clogged gutters and drains, cans and bottles, old car tires, fishponds and rain barrels, boats and other watercraft, as well as plants and tree holes that hold water.
- Get rid of any junk you don't need. Cover items to prevent water from collecting. Items that can't be covered should be flushed or drained TWICE WEEKLY to prevent mosquitoes from hatching. An adult mosquito, under ideal conditions, can emerge from an egg within 6 days.
- Fill holes and depressions where you find standing water.
- Empty plastic wading pools at least once a week and store indoors when not in use.
- Change the water in bird baths and plant pots or drip trays at least once each week.
- Store boats covered or upside down or remove rainwater weekly.
- Level the ground around your home so water can run off and not collect in low spots. Fill in holes or depressions near your home that accumulate water.
- Fill in tree rot holes and hollow stumps that hold water.
- If you have an ornamental water garden, stock it with mosquito-eating fish (e.g., minnows, "mosquitofish", goldfish or guppies)
- Repair screening on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
- Some mosquito control methods are not very effective. Bug zappers are not effective in controlling mosquitoes that bite. Various birds and bats will eat mosquitoes, but there is little scientific evidence that this reduces mosquitoes around homes.
- Unused swimming pools need to be maintained with chlorine and circulation or else treated to prevent mosquito breeding.
- Treat standing water with larvicide containing the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Gambusia minnows can be released into larger more permanent bodies of water. These fish are mosquito predators which eat the mosquito larvae. This provides an environmentally sensible way to control mosquito breeding naturally without endangering people, pets, or wildlife.