As of Tuesday there have been 128 travel-related cases of Zika virus in Florida, and none in Manatee County.
But it’s only a matter of time before a Manatee resident who has traveled to South or Central America or the Caribbean, places which have been hit hard by the mosquito-carrying Zika virus, brings the virus back to Manatee, Mark Latham, director of Manatee County Mosquito Control, said Tuesday.
“It’s a numbers game,” Latham told Manatee County commissioners during a 30-minute presentation on mosquito control he gave in their chamber.
“We feel we are ready and have the tools to react immediately should we have imported cases of Zika, which we do not have any at the moment,” Latham added.
Since Tropical Storm Colin dumped three to five inches of rain on Manatee County on Sunday and Monday, Latham told commissioners he will have to deal with thousands of swamp mosquitoes, which are not a Zika threat, when they hatch in about five days.
“We will be very busy,” Latham said.
But as for Zika, Latham appealed to commissioners to help him get the word out to Manatee County homeowners that eliminating all standing water from their yards, especially after the tropical storm, is the best way to combat the Aedes mosquito which carries the Zika virus.
This mosquito, unlike a swamp mosquito, only travels a few hundred feet from the container where it is hatched in its lifetime, which means it will likely spend its life in someone’s backyard.
“We would like to saturate high-risk areas with lots of trash in the back yards with brochures utilizing government groups or service groups that are already active in those areas,” Latham told commissioners. “I would love to promote community clean-up days with incentives for participation, like maybe an amnesty day for solid waste pick up of old tires. People keep old tires because it costs money to take them to the dump.”
“We spray for swamp mosquitoes but the Zika-carrying mosquito is a container mosquito,” Latham said. “This is where we need the public’s help.”
Apparently, Latham is going to get that help.
After hearing his request, Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac asked the county’s neighborhood services department if it could take the lead to inform the public on how to rid yards of mosquito-loving habitats, like water-trapping tires and tarps, the saucers under flower pots, buckets filled with water, the curves in bromeliad plants and other places.
Erin Stewart and Debbie Deleon of Neighborhood Services quickly responded.
“We can certainly coordinate our efforts by working in residential areas,” Karen Stewart, Manatee’s economic development manager and a neighborhood services staffer, told commissioners. “We can pass out information and also use our online newsletter, ‘Neighborhood Connections.’ We would be happy to join in the action.”
Neighborhood Connections comes out monthly and can be accessed at mymanatee.org.
Neighborhood Services is a broad department includes the county’s libraries, economic development, community redevelopment and, in general, works directly in the community to generate citizen feedback on important issues.
Deleon asked residents who may have tires or anything else that might harbor mosquito larvae that need to be removed or questions about where mosquitoes might breed to ask for her at 941-749-3029.
“We will help in anyway we can, including arranging solid waste to pick things up,” Deleon said.
Commissioners have comments, questions
Latham’s presentation drew many questions and comments from commissioners.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino asked about what is the best mosquito repellant against the Aedes mosquitoes.
Latham said sprays containing deet and picaridin are very effective but some people who are sensitive to them can use natural repellants and plant oils like cinnamon oil, lavender and lemon eucalyptus oil.
DiSabatino also wanted to know if the spraying Latham does for swamp mosquitoes is safe for people and pets, which he said it was.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore commented that it was important to bring out the dangers of Zika to pregnant women.
The Centers for Disease Control has stated that Zika causes microcephaly and other brain defects in newborns.
“Microcephaly is tragic,” Whitmore said. “This must be brought out. I want to clarify that Zika is transmitted by sexual contact and if you are bitten.”
- Manatee has 46 different mosquito species, most of which bite at night.
- But the Aedes “Zika” mosquitoes bite in early morning after sunrise and before sunset.
- Manatee’s swamp mosquitoes can fly thousands of feet or even miles to find a blood meal.
- But the “Zika” mosquitoes rarely travel more than a few hundred feet in their lifetimes.
- Aedes mosquitoes breed in tires, fish ponds not maintained, buckets and saucers under flower pots.
- The Zika virus only occurs between man and mosquitoes. No other animals are involved.
- No chicken sentinels can be used, the first warning that Zika has arrived in Manatee will be a human case.
Information from Mark Latham, Director, Manatee County Mosquito Control