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Malaria concerns have Polk mosquito control working extra hours

Photo: @ekamelev
Photo: @ekamelev

Polk County is working to make sure the odds of malaria spreading northward are as low as possible.

Health officials are monitoring Florida’s mosquito population after two more locally acquired cases of malaria were found in Sarasota County, bringing the state’s total to six.

The Florida Department of Health issued a Mosquito-borne illness advisoryearlier in June after four people tested positive.

Meanwhile, Central Florida's closest county to the state's malaria epicenter, Polk County, is working to make sure the odds of malaria spreading northward are as low as possible.

“Every mosquito control program is working overtime to do what it takes to make sure that the citizens and their counties are safe. And we do the same here,” said Jackson Mosley, interim director of Polk mosquito control.  

Polk County Mosquito Control is putting in extra hours and treatment to work on eliminating the common malaria mosquito species, also known as the anopheles mosquito — the species responsible for spreading malaria to humans.

The team is spraying a bio-control larvacide in ditches and shallow ponds where anopheles lay their eggs, Mosley said. Polk has over 500 lakes for possible breeding, and also plenty of flooded-out areas thanks to summer rainfall. Despite the daunting task of covering a large area, Mosely is confident malaria won’t spread up to Central Florida.

“We are trying to stay out in front of it. We don't want to have an accidental situation occur here,” he said.

Mosley also said that despite overall mosquito populations being up this summer, anopheles typically isn’t as prevalent in Florida until the colder months of the year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s been 20 years since the last time Florida saw locally acquired cases of malaria. One positive case was found this year in an Orange County hospital, but the virus was determined to have been acquired from outside the country.

As far as protecting residential homes, Mosely has a very easy way Central Florida residents can help reduce the spread.

"Drain and cover," he said. "Anytime you have containers around your home, even the simplest containers, whether it's a tire, whether it's a flower pot, a toy like a Tonka toy in the yard, or a birdbath those are great places for mosquitoes to have their eggs in and produce more mosquitoes."

The Department of Health also issued a release offering several ways to stay safe from malaria including wearing long sleeve clothes and repellent.

Polk County, as well as Orange and several other Central Florida counties, are also under another mosquito-borne illness advisory for Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, which causes a neurological disease that can produce symptoms of headaches, seizures, and behavioral changes.

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Joe Mario Pedersen