HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Mosquitoes are an inevitable part of Florida life, but residents may be nervous after seeing this weekend’s report about Eastern equine encephalitis in Orange County.
The Florida Department of Health in Orange County confirmed several of its sentinel chickens tested positive for the mosquito-borne disease, also known as EEE, which can cause swelling of the brain and can sometimes be fatal.
According to the CDC, about seven cases are reported in humans a year.
Here in Hillsborough County, officials are not seeing any kind of mosquito-related diseases, from EEE to the West Nile virus, in the county’s 10 flocks of sentinel chickens.
Director of Hillsborough County Mosquito Management RJ Montgomery said one of the most important aspects of their program is what the public rarely sees: the disease surveillance activities which go on throughout the year.
“And one of those traditional methods we use throughout the year, and one of those traditional methods that we use here in Florida, that’s been very successful is placing sentinel chickens in the field as an early warning system for some mosquito-borne illnesses,” he told 8 On Your Side’s Daisy Ruth.
Montgomery said the species of mosquito associated with EEE and the West Nile virus prefers to bite birds.
“That’s why the chickens are so critical to our detection,” Montgomery said. “While they’re immune to the pathogens, they do develop antibodies which we can detect, which does deliver that wonderful early warning system for us.”
The chickens have their blood tested for disease antibodies every week.
Hillsborough County Mosquito Management Services have a mobile mosquito control lab that they use to educate the public.
County residents can explore the mobile lab during events where they can also receive free mosquito fish. Those events are continuing throughout the summer.
According to Montgomery, there is nothing to worry about in Hillsborough County right now. If that changes, Mosquito Management Services will alert the public.
“We always have mosquito illnesses, diseases, pathogens in the background. It’s just part of the ecology of Florida. When they get to a level where there’s an increased risk, our system is set up to identify that and to notify the public,” he said.
“And that’s exactly what I believe happened in Orange County. That system worked exactly as it was planned to work.”
Montgomery gave us some tips to help prevent bites from pesky mosquitoes, as he says Florida is “mosquito-infested,” at times.
“As always, whether there’s an increase in our chicken reports or not, we encourage people to wear mosquito repellent. It’s a proven way to protect yourself from mosquito bites, as always, especially if you’re going to be out at dusk or dawn. Long-sleeves, long pants. And eliminate standing water outside your house,” he said.
“Most importantly, if you have a mosquito problem that you feel is above and beyond what’s normal, what’s acceptable, give us a call. That’s why we’re here. We’ll dispatch an inspector out to evaluate what’s going on. Sometimes habitats change. We can intervene, perhaps bring some mosquito fish out to a low lying area that’s being flooded and offer a nice biological control to that mosquito problem.”
Residents can visit Mosquito Management Services’ mobile lab and pick up fish from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the following dates:
- August 24 – Mike E. Sansone Community Park, 1702 N. Park Road in Plant City
- September 7 – Gardenville Recreation Center, 6215 Symmes Road in Gibsonton
- September 21 – Picnic Island Park, 7409 Picnic Island Blvd. in Tampa