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Mosquitoes coming out in full force
By TERRY TOMALIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000
It seems like I can't step outside these days without being attacked by hungry insects.
Fishing the back country, hiking a jungle trail or just pulling weeds in the garden, everywhere I go, gangs of bloodsucking, disease-carrying little monsters are bent on making my day miserable.
If ever there was a creature deserving of mankind's hatred, it is the mosquito.
"And there are a lot of them out there right now," said Mike Detert, Supervisor of Field Operations for Pinellas County Mosquito Control. "They love all this rain and warm weather."
There are roughly 200 species of mosquito in the United States, each species having preferred habitat and prey. Only the female mosquito feeds on blood, which she needs for eggs that are laid in standing, stagnant water. The males do not bite.
Generally speaking, the local villains make homes in salt marshes or freshwater swamps.
"The salt marsh mosquitoes come at you by the thousands," Detert said. "But the freshwater ones are stealthier ... you can often hear 'em but you can't see them."
When they stop buzzing ... whack! They've got you.
Mosquitoes can be more than just a nuisance. These winged parasites can transmit a variety of diseases. The following is sort of the Swamp Angel's Greatest Hits:
Yellow Fever: This disease was a scourge during Florida's pioneer days. It was seen first in Pensacola in 1764. In 1874, the disease killed 354 of the city's 1,400 inhabitants. Three years later, 1,500 of the City of Fernandina's 1,600 residents were struck. But yellow fever has not been seen in Florida since 1905.
Malaria: Between 1917 and 1930, half of Florida's 67 counties had annual malaria deaths of 100 people for every 100,000 inhabitants. But mosquito control efforts in the 1930s and 1940s nearly eradicated the disease.
The disease remains a scourge internationally, with 400- to 500-million cases and 2-million deaths reported each year. Each year, public health officials encounter dozens of Floridians who have contracted malaria out of state.
These imported cases give local mosquitoes a chance to make contact with infected humans and pass the disease to local mosquito populations. In 1990, a camper who was returning from a trip to the Panhandle came down with the disease, as did several people in Palm Beach County in 1996.
St. Louis Encephalitis: The disease became the leading cause of recurring epidemics in Florida during the latter part of the 20th Century. The 1990 outbreak was the largest (223 documented cases) and most widespread (cases reported in 28 counties), and resulted in 11 deaths. In the Tampa Bay area, a three-year epidemic that ended in 1962 generated 315 cases and 55 deaths.
West Nile Virus: Discovered in Uganda in 1937, the virus has been documented from Central Africa to Europe and Asia, and recently in North America. Health officials in Queens, N.Y., encountered several cases last summer.
So how do you keep from getting bitten?
You could try one of several home remedies. A few cloves of garlic added to a meal has been cited. Large amounts of Vitamin E have been touted as a natural repellent. So has mint tea. And, of course, Skin-So-Soft lotion, for some reason, has undeniable bug-bashing benefits.
However, the most popular chemical repellent is the compound commonly known as DEET, developed in the late 1950s by the United States government. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 50-million to 100-million people use DEET each year, with fewer than 10 reports of adverse side effects.
Most complaints involve skin or eye irritation. However, there have been rare cases of neurological problems in young children after frequent exposure. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, mood changes and, in severe cases, convulsions or coma.
"DEET is the only thing that really works," Detert said. "But look at the ingredients ... anything more than 30 percent DEET is a waste."
- Information from The Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach; the Environmental Protection Agency and Pinellas County Mosquito & Vegetation Management contributed to this report.
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