MANATEE -- Mosquitoes are more prolific now than last year in Manatee County, with a landing rate spiking to as many as 10 to 15 per minute in areas near marshlands and about two per minute in urban areas.
"It's a daily battle," said 19-year Manatee Mosquito Control District Director Mark Latham. "Last week we had lots of adult mosquitoes but we've gotten a good handle on it and we've knocked 'em down."
Manatee County's mosquito bite compares favorably with the Keys, where officials report a landing rate of 50 -- the number lighting on a bare arm in a minute -- in Key Largo early this month.
"It's definitely been the most active season we've seen in recent years," said Andrea Leal, operations director for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.
Manatee County has historically been at the forefront of fighting mosquitoes. In 1922, the Florida Anti-Mosquito Association was formed followed by the Indian River County Mosquito Control District in 1925, St. Lucie Mosquito Control District in 1926 and Manatee County Mosquito Control District in 1947.
The reason for all this skeeter attention? Florida has more than 1,200 miles of coastline, a warm sub-tropical climate and its heavy rainfall encourages 77 species of mosquitoes.
Latham said Tropical Storm Andrea's June 6 drenching opened the state rainy season and mosquito season simultaneously. Latham's 28-member staff springs to action when complaints come in or readings at one of 29 sites monitored twice daily trigger Latham's concern.
"You have to look at the environment," Latham said. "In the city, a landing rate of zero to two per minute is good. In or near marshy areas, you can't expect to be as comfortable."
Mosquito hot spots in Bradenton include Robinson Preserve, around the De Soto Memorial, northwest Bradenton and near Port Manatee, Latham said. The landing rate in hot spots can soar to as many as 15 per minute.
"All because of proximity to marshes," he said.
Latham downplayed concern about mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria, St. Louis or Eastern equine encephalitis and dengue fever in Manatee County.
"Those diseases are not endemic to Manatee County," he said. "We haven't had any West Nile since 2003. We had a couple of imported cases of malaria last year and we've had dengue imported, but it is not endemic to here."
With dengue spreading globally and at epidemic levels in many Latin and Caribbean countries, public health experts expect the disease to slowly spread in Florida, with its large populations of immigrants and international travelers.
The virus is carried in the human bloodstream but transmitted by the bite of a common and difficult-to-control mosquito called Aedes aegypti.
"Miami-Dade is an entry gate," said Pedro Noya-Chaveco, a biological scientist for the Miami-Dade County Health Department. "We have a lot of people traveling to endemic areas. People come here for a visit and go to other places."
That's why Manatee County maintains 14 flocks of "sentinel" chickens that serve as the canary in the coal mine for any potential mosquito-inspired influx of potentially fatal diseases. The chickens are bled once a week, and any suspect blood samples are sent to the state lab in Tampa to see if the mosquito bites carried a nasty bug along with it.
""When we get a possible sample, we have the lab take a look at it," Latham said. "We do monitor these chickens for diseases."
Manatee County property owners provide Latham's office with a $2.9 million annual budget from a 1.286 millage ($12.86 cents per every $1,000 in assessed property value). That's off 15 percent and $500,000 from the mosquito-fight high budget of $3.4 million in 2007, Latham said.
"It's a good number," Latham said. "We can operate on it."
For mosquito control agencies, storms make problems and mosquitoes. Rains hatch dormant eggs and provide additional breeding areas. Mosquitoes grow into biting adults in three to five days.
"Mosquitoes need flooded areas," Latham said. "They lay eggs in mud above water levels and they lay dormant until the area floods."
Storms can also restrict mosquito-control operations. Agencies can't spray in the rain and storms can ground planes.
Sunday's downpours likely triggered another bout of battling mosquito clouds. Latham said his crews are ready to swat down another swarm.
"Mosquitoes are always going to be a part of life in Manatee County," Lathan said. "There's no way we can eliminate them."