BONIFAY — Visiting this week’s meeting of the Bonifay Kiwanis Club was Director of the Holmes County Health Department Rick Davis to speak with members about mosquitoes, mosquito-borne illnesses and the role that the Holmes County Health Department plays in education.
“As you all know, Florida has a climate that is conducive to mosquitoes,” said Davis. “They thrive in the warm, moist climate. There are more than 3,000 different species of mosquito and can be found almost any where in the world, including as far as Antarctica.”
Davis said that a little known fact is that only female mosquitoes bite and they do not need blood to survive.
“Mosquitoes actually eat mostly nectar,” he said. “Females are the only ones that bite and draw blood. For some strange reason they need the blood in order to reproduce.”
Another little known fact, said Davis, is that they prefer the blood of birds and smaller animals to human.
“We have flocks of chicken that we draw blood from to find out what’s going around in this area,” he said. “Last year the state of Florida only had one case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, it just so happened to be in Holmes County.”
He explained that the EEE virus was a rare virus to contract because it would have to be transmitted directly from horse or exotic bird to human and not from human to human.
“It also helps that mosquitoes don’t like to travel,” said Davis. “Mosquitoes will only travel up to one mile from the area they were born.”
He said the one illness to truly be wary of is the West Nile Virus because it is more commonly found in our area.
“In humans, symptoms typically begin three to 14 days after being bitten and can cause serious illnesses in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems,” said Davis. “It should be taken seriously because it still has a three to 15 percent mortality rate.”
He explained there were 69 cases of the West Nile Virus and was concentrated in the Panhandle Area of Florida.
An odd occurrence, said Davis, was the reappearance of the Dengue Virus that resurfaced in 2010 after being absent in the United States for some time.
“The virus seemed to isolate itself in southern Florida,” he said. “There was one confirmed case in Okaloosa County, though they were able to confirm later that they contracted the virus from visiting somewhere else.”
The objective of the Holmes County Health Department, he said, is to “minimizing the number of human illnesses and deaths due to mosquito-borne illnesses.”
“Routine spraying is up to the local government body and there are grants available to help fund these endeavors,” said Davis. “We put out public notices when need be, which is usually after a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane in which the mosquitoes become an strong issue. FEMA would not get involved until aerial spraying is required during a declared emergency.”
He said the best method is to remember to Drain and Cover.
Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying:
Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flowerpots 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 pet’s 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:
Wear shoes, socks, and long pants and long-sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.
Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing. Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.
Cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out of your house. Repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches and patios.
Tips on Repellent Use
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 are generally recommended. Other US Environmental Protection Agency-approved repellents contain Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR 3535. These products are generally available at local pharmacies. Look for active ingredients to be listed on the product label.
Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
In protecting children, read label instructions to be sure the repellent is age-appropriate. According to the CDC, mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3 years. DEET is not recommended on children younger than 2 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.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) continues to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito borne illnesses. Residents of Florida are encouraged to report dead birds to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site at http://www.myfwc.com/bird/. For more information, visit DOH’s Environmental Public Health web site at http://www.doh.state.fl.us/Environment/medicine/arboviral/index.htmlor call the Walton County Health Department at (850) 892-8021 or the Holmes County Health Department at (850) 547-8500.