Liberated from their eggs by heavy rains, mosquitoes have begun their annual assault on South Florida.
Calls to Broward County Mosquito Control are running from 160 to 200 a day, with complaints coming from every corner of the county. At Palm Beach County Mosquito Control, fewer calls are coming in — although there had been an infestation reported in the Boca Raton area — but there's concern that continued heavy rains could lead to another round of the mosquito-borne illnesses that struck the county last year.
The invasion of backyards, parks and patios has been moderate so far, but mosquito-control officials say if the rains continue at the current rate, they will create favorable breeding conditions for species that carry West Nile virus, Dengue fever, St. Louis encephalitis and other diseases.
"We're really watching the weather," said Gary Goode, an entomologist and environmental analyst with Palm Beach County Mosquito Control. "It's really worrying us, the drip-drip-drip that keeps the ground saturated. If you have that going on every day, it keeps it nice and wet. And that really is nice for the mosquitoes, particularly the ones that carry these viruses."
Although it's still well before the season's peak in July, many neighborhoods are suffering.
"I could walk out now and have four or five on top of me," said Robert Piña, 55, of Plantation. "At this very moment, I'm waiting for a company to come in and screen in the pool area. It's going to set me back 13 grand, but I can't put up with this."
In West Park, Mike Towns, 51, said mosquitoes have made sitting outside in his yard a miserable experience. "Every night they bite you," he said. "You can't really sit in your yard, ever since we've had the rainy season."
About two weeks ago, after rains started soaking soaked South Florida, Dennis Erich noticed mosquitoes in the middle of the day around his Coral Springs house, where they attacked his grandchildren. "My grandchildren were out in the yard and they showed me the spots on their legs," he said.
He called Broward mosquito control and said they came quickly and did an "excellent job."
The insects currently buzzing around neighborhoods are floodwater mosquitoes, insects that hatch quickly in rainwater, attack aggressively but don't carry disease.
In a month or two, after water accumulates in ditches, depressions in the ground, buckets and other containers, another, more dangerous sort of mosquito will hatch, species that require long-standing water to support their egg rafts.
These mosquitoes are less aggressive biters, but they're capable of transmitting viruses to people. Last year, the Florida Department of Health issued warnings about mosquito-borne illnesses in Palm Beach County after two people were diagnosed with Dengue fever and one person was diagnosed with West Nile virus. Broward last had a West Nile case in 2010.
"We're figuring we're going to get that again this year," said Goode, of mosquito control. "We're getting a lot of rain. If this keeps up, we're going to have a pretty substantial year for mosquitoes."
Broward County's fleet of four spray trucks head in to hard-hit neighborhoods between 2 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., two hours earlier than last year. The change is intended to concentrate spraying in periods when the mosquitoes are active, the air is still and traffic is light.
"They seem to be knocking down the mosquitoes much better," said Joseph Marhefka, Broward's mosquito control director.
In Palm Beach County, aggressive spraying has not yet begun because the currently active species are day fliers that wouldn't be affected by spraying at night, Goode said.
Complicating the fight against mosquitoes are the huge numbers of foreclosed abandoned homes dotting South Florida neighborhoods. Although pools would seem the most likely breeding grounds, the places most abundant with eggs tend to be containers and debris scattered around abandoned yards, Goode said.
Broward County on Tuesday issued a news release urging residents to take precautions, including reducing sources of standing water, staying indoors at dusk and dawn, wearing long-sleeved, light-colored clothing and using insect repellent with DEET.
"The best protection from mosquito-transmitted diseases is avoiding exposure to mosquito bites," Marhefka said. END