Florida probably won't be prepared to battle Zika 

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click to enlarge Different species are bred in containers at the lab. - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • Different species are bred in containers at the lab.

But although Florida is no stranger to defeating outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue or chikungunya, it's coming into this summer's Zika battle missing a weapon or two, mainly because of the lack of federal and state money. And Florida isn't alone – experts say the rest of the U.S. is not ready either.

Kelly Deutsch and her employees spend their working hours finding and dumping the most obscure breeding places for the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Orange County.

All it takes is two tablespoons of stagnant water, and anything – a bottle cap, a birdbath, an old tire, a bucket, a pet's forgotten water dish, a storm drain, even an empty chip bag discarded by the roadside – can become a place for the mosquito to lay its eggs. The larvae hatch in about five days if the weather's warm. Deutsch, acting manager for the Orange County Mosquito Control Division, says there are roughly 40 species of mosquito in Central Florida, but the Aedes aegypti, responsible for Zika and other mosquito-related illnesses, is one of the most difficult to control.

They like to feed on people. Unlike other mosquitoes, they bite during the daytime, indoors and outdoors. Zika passes to a mosquito when it bites a person infected with the active virus; then the mosquito spreads the virus to the next person it bites, acting as a vector. The Orange County Mosquito Control can spray pesticides to control the mosquitoes, but Deutsch says fogging down a neighborhood is most effective at dusk because the chemical used is broken down by sunlight.

"We can't spray our way out of this one," she says. "We need boots on the ground and until we eliminate the source of water where these mosquitoes are coming from, they're just going to continue to develop. ... The best control measure is to get rid of the habitat, and you don't have to worry about any insecticides at all."

Unlike poorer areas of Latin America, Florida enjoys the widespread use of air conditioning and screens, which mostly keeps these mosquitoes out of homes. But Florida, especially Orange County, also enjoys a slew of tourists visiting from all over the world who can bring the virus with them. Central Florida is also getting increased migration from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. In the midst of its financial crisis, the island has recorded more than 1,100 cases of Zika, one microcephaly case, seven cases of Guillain-Barré and one death associated with the virus, according to the Associated Press.

Deutsch says she plans to add more temporary staff in the coming weeks. Going door to door telling residents to turn over any containers of standing water on their properties is not difficult, but it's time-consuming. With a budget of $2.17 million, Deutsch can reasonably spend more on help in Orange County, but for a mosquito-control program like Osceola's, with a budget of less than $500,000, extra funds are scarce, says Osceola County Mosquito Control director Terry Torrens.

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