Florida experts say to be ‘vigilant’ about mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses

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mosquito malaria
An Anopheles mosquito on human skin. Anopheles is a malaria vector. By abadonian via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — After cases of malaria were found this year in Sarasota County, experts on Tuesday pointed to a continuing need in Florida to combat mosquito-borne illnesses as rain from Hurricane Idalia has increased breeding grounds for the insects.

Sarasota County Mosquito Control District Director Wade Brennan said a mosquito-borne illness alert for malaria in Sarasota and Manatee counties was lifted this week.

“That doesn’t mean we’re out of the water,” Brennan said during a conference call with members of the Florida Mosquito Control Association. “We want everybody to be very vigilant about stopping those mosquito bites.”

Association President Sandra Fisher-Grainger, who is director of Hernando County Mosquito Control, said even when an area is treated for mosquitoes before storms, risks grow because standing water is a breeding ground and because people are more susceptible to being bitten.

“People are outside. They’re cleaning up their properties. They’re helping their neighbors,” Fisher-Grainger said. “They may have damage to their windows or doors, or they may not have any power, and so there’s no AC (air conditioning) and so they keep their homes open.”

Seven confirmed cases of malaria were reported in recent months in Sarasota. All seven people were treated and recovered, according to the Florida Department of Health. Brennan said the cases were tied to two areas that were within five miles of each other.

Meanwhile, cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever were reported last month in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. While rarely fatal, dengue fever can lead to such things as severe headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle and joint pains.

Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Chairman Phil Goodman said cases of dengue fever and the mosquito-borne Zika virus have increased during the past decade because of more travel to Central and South American countries where the diseases are endemic.

“Travelers are unknowingly bringing this disease in … and those people are contaminating our mosquitoes and you get local transmission,” Goodman said.

Fisher-Grainger said climate change and increased trade with other countries make it easier for mosquitoes to bring diseases to Florida.

The malaria cases in Sarasota County and one around the same time in Texas were considered the first locally acquired transmissions of malaria in the U.S. in 20 years.

Mosquitoes brought from Sarasota County to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab tested positive for carrying a parasite that causes malaria.

Mosquito-borne diseases typically found in Florida include West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis.

“Always use CDC-approved repellants. Wear long, loose-fitting clothing, that’s shirts and pants,” Brennan said. “In today’s world, we have great design improvements where we can wear long-sleeved shirts that are not restricting or overbearing, as far as the heat goes. Make sure that you are draining and getting rid of any kind of standing water.”

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