It's that time of year when backyard barbeques are commonplace, so crews from the Okaloosa County Mosquito Control division have stepped up their efforts to combat these pesky visitors.
"If you have a yard, you are attracting mosquitoes," said Scott Henson, who heads up the county's program. "Unfortunately there are just people out there who are mosquito magnets."
In Destin, crews are combating the local mosquito population twice a week, on Mondays and Tuesdays, weather permitting and based on whether or not the need to spray is justified in accordance with state regulations.
Henson said almost everything his crews do is heavily regulated by the state since they are using toxic chemicals to control approximately 30 varieties of mosquitoes in Okaloosa County alone. Before they are able to spray, they must use a series of tests to justify a need.
The first test is called a "standing rate count" and is actually pretty simple. Basically an individual stands in a location and counts the number of "feeds" that occur on his body in a minute. In order to spray, there must be at least five feeds per minute.
Henson said the county also employs a surveillance program which uses mosquito traps that are placed throughout the county. When the traps are removed, the number of captured mosquitoes is counted and when a specific threshold is reached during a 24-hour period crews can spray.
While the standing rate count and trap methods are very specific, Henson said the state of Florida also allows for some flexibility, as the director can treat areas based on their historical knowledge and familiarity with an area.
Recently, The Log received complaints from residents in the Crystal Beach area who said the mosquito population was preventing them from being able to enjoy the outdoors.
"My family can't walk outside at night even with repellent containing Deet without getting a lot of mosquito bites," one resident wrote in a letter. "We are miserable, not to mention the health hazard."
Humans can contract mosquito borne diseases if they are bitten by the female mosquito. In Florida, mosquitoes can transmit Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, and Heartworm, according to the county's mosquito control website, www.co.okaloosa.fl.us/dept_pw_mosquito_control.html.
Children are also very allergic to mosquito bites, the site says, and infected mosquito bites can lead to impetigo, a bacterial skin infection. Use of a mosquito repellent with Deet is recommended.
County officials urge residents to remember "SWAT" as part of their personal protection efforts.
· S: Stay inside with screened doors and windows when mosquitoes are biting (dusk and dawn)
· W: When outside, wear clothing that covers skin
· A: Apply mosquito repellent that includes Deet on your skin when you are outside
· T: Turn over standing water where mosquitoes lay eggs or better yet, rid your outdoor area of standing water in which mosquitoes can lay eggs.
Henson said the smallest amounts of water can provide the perfect spot for mosquitoes to lay eggs.
"A 55-gallon drum with just an inch of water can breed thousands of mosquitoes," he said.
When residents have issues with mosquitoes or complaints, Henson urges them to call 651-7394 andlet his crew know so they can take care of the problem.
"The more calls we get the better," he said. "We map the problem areas so we can take our resources to where we need them."
As part of the county's mosquito control program they have put an additional focus on what they call "integrated pest control," which is where they treat all lifecycles of the mosquito. Over the past few years, Henson said they have "stepped up their efforts" in combating mosquitoes during the larvae cycle.
The county even uses the gambusia fish to keep the mosquito population under control. Henson said the county has six locations where it breeds this "mosquitofish." The gambusia fish feeds on the mosquito larvae.
"They tend to be food for heron and other birds, due to their size, so we have to constantly maintain them," he said.
The county is currently using broadcast spraying as part of its treatment regimen. This method is probably the most visual, as residents can see the trucks driving down the street spraying.
While this method can be effective, it has its downfalls as well. Drivers are not allowed to spray during the day due to the native bee population, so they spray at night. Also, the trucks are not allowed to spray when people are present.
As a general rule of thumb, if the lights on the truck are flashing, mosquito spray is under way, Henson said.
Looking at the numbers, Henson said mosquito control can report that "complaints are lower than they have been the past two years," so their treatment methods seem to be working.
While the mosquito control project may not be perfect, Henson said it's making a difference.
"We're limited in our resources, but we are doing the best that we can."