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West Nile & Dengue on the rise in Florida

Florida service technicians should continue using their mosquito repellant later than usual this year because heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Eta left water sitting throughout portions of the state – a prime breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

Typically, mosquitoes are most active from the end of April through October, but in the week following the November 2020 storm, reports of large mosquito populations were submitted to county Mosquito Control Districts.

Currently, a number of residents have tested positive for the West Nile Virus and Florida County Health Departments are issuing mosquito advisories.

Martin and Hillsborough Counties have each reported one human case of West Nile. Broward County reported seven cases since January. But that number doesn’t come close to Miami-Dade’s nearly 60 human cases. Numerous other counties have reported positive West Nile cases in horses and sentinel chickens.

Meanwhile, as of November 9, the CDC reported 69 cases of Dengue Fever in Florida, another mosquito-borne illness, with at least 47 of those infected in the Florida Keys.

In response to the outbreaks, local mosquito control experts have announced that they plan to release 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes next year in the Florida Keys, with the goal of reducing the number of mosquitoes carrying diseases such as West Nile, dengue or the Zika virus.

The mosquitoes are modified by inserting a self-limiting gene into certain eggs which later morph into a new mosquito strain. Then, the genetically modified male mosquitoes are released. When these males mate with the females, they pass the self-limiting gene along. The female offspring of that encounter cannot survive, resulting in a rapid and drastic reduction of the wild mosquito population.

Oxitec, the company behind the plan, is from the U.S. and has received approval from the Environmental ProtectionAgency and other government agencies.

In a recent trial of this procedure that took place in Brazil, Oxitec scientists were able to reduce 95% of the wild mosquito population in just 12 weeks.

The decision to release the genetically modified mosquitoes has been met with opposition from several activist groups, who worry about the strategy’s unintended consequences. So far, over 235,000 people have signed a Change. org petition to stop the plan. Several advocacy groups, including the Center for Food Safety, have criticized the EPA for approving the plan.

The group released a statement in response to the project: “Neither EPA, FKMCD nor Oxitec is aware of how this unprecedented release of millions of GE mosquitoes will affect Monroe County or the State of Florida because EPA refused to carry out an environmental impact statement. To proceed with this Jurassic Park-like experiment before EPAperforms its most basic environmental review to determine what the negative impacts that these GE mosquitoes may have on public health, endangered and threatened species and the environment in the Florida Keys, is unlawful and downright irresponsible.”

However, Oxitec scientists insist that the strategy is environmentally friendly, avoids putting harmful chemicals into the environment and leaves beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies unharmed. Furthermore, they say that the EPA conducted an extensive risk assessment based on the best available science and they don’t expect it will have adverse effects on animals and humans.

They plan to go ahead with the project early next year before mosquito season begins.

In the meantime, those who work outdoors should wear long pants and long sleeves and keep the mosquito repellant handy.

The following additional tips from the Florida Health Department are offered:

•'Drain and Cover'— Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying. Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.

• Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used. Empty and clean birdbaths and pets' water bowls at least once or twice a week.

• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.

• Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

• Cover skin with clothing or repellent. Clothing — wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.

• Repellent—Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing. Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane—diol, 2—undecanone and IR3535 are effective.

• Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than two months old. Always read label directions carefully for the approved usage before you apply a repellent. Some repellents are not suitable for children. Products with concentrations of up to 30 percent DEET (N,Ndiethyl-m-toluamide) are generally recommended. Other U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agencyapproved repellents contain picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthanediol, 2-undecanone or IR3535. These products are generally available at local pharmacies. Look for active ingredients on the product label. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.

• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus orpara-menthane-diol should not be used on children under the age of three. DEET is not recommended on children younger than two months old.

• Avoid applying repellents to the hands of children. Adults should apply repellent first to their own hands and then transfer it to the child's skin and clothing.

• If additional protection is necessary, apply a permethrin repellent directly to your clothing. Again, always follow the manufacturer's directions.

• Cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out and repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches and patios.

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