Officials increase mosquito spraying

Following the deaths of two blue jays and the detection of the West Nile Virus in sentinel chickens, Hillsborough County officials have decided to extend the frequency of its mosquito spraying efforts to twice a month.

“We’re going to do the best we can with available equipment,” said Joel Jacobson, manager for the Hillsborough County Mosquito Unit, the agency in charge of controlling mosquito-borne diseases. However, Jacobson said the county has not declared the West Nile Virus a public health threat, but that spraying should already have been increased “in order to meet seasonal demands.”

The virus, which includes symptoms of headache, fever and fatigue, was first detected in the Tampa area in sentinel chicken flocks in November 2001, according to the county’s Web site. Sentinel chicken flocks, described as surveillance traps by Jacobson, are kept in Riverview, Sundance and USF. The disease is passed from bird to mosquito to humans. Individuals with weak immune systems and the elderly are at higher risk.

The pesticide used in the spray contains the same active ingredient, permethrin, as the dip used to kill fleas on pets and is distributed via spray rigs attached to pick-up trucks and helicopters.

Jacobson said that while the spray can be irritating, “the type of product used has a low mammalian toxicity” and is only harmful to humans in rare cases.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, in response to the growing number of infections, the Center for Disease Control – the federal agency in charge of tracking diseases – has created a full-time Emergency Operations Center which oversees hundreds of investigators and thousands of specimens.

Also reported by the St. Petersburg Times is the discovery of the second West Nile infection in Florida resulting from an organ transplant. The 71-year-old woman from Miami-Dade County was one of four people who received an organ from a Georgia woman confirmed to have had the virus.

Despite the risks, freshman Heather Sullivan said she isn’t too concerned about the disease.

“There’s not enough infected people for me to worry,” she said. “I’m not going to change my lifestyle.”

And just how do you protect yourself? Jacobson advised people who plan on being outside at dawn or dusk to wear mosquito repellent and a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Additionally, individuals can prevent against mosquito development by eliminating standing water – a breeding place for the insects – in and around their homes.