The rains have started, and in Miami rains mean summer, and summer means mosquito season. The biting, bothersome pests have become an even bigger problem across Florida in recent years, bringing diseases like West Nile, Saint Louis encephalitis, Dengue, and Chikungunya.
Those last two, in addition to being hard to pronounce, were also mostly unknown in the U.S. until recently. Travelers have been bringing in both illnesses from the tropics for awhile, but last year people caught these viruses right here in South Florida.
Research suggests that mosquito-borne diseases may become more common as climate change intensifies. There’s already evidence that the geographic range of mosquitoes that carry diseases has changed as the climate has warmed, and scientists think that the number of viral infections like Malaria and Dengue will likely increase as temperatures rise.
Here’s a quick look at mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County, some tips how to protect yourself and your neighbors from mosquito-borne disease, and a photo line-up of a few of the hungriest blood-suckers around.
Mosquito complaints in Miami-Dade
If you’re having problems with mosquitoes, you can call 311 to report the issue. The county’s Mosquito Control Division will look into it. They often provide site assessments, and they track complaints to help manage the county’s spraying efforts.
Mosquito prevention tips
There are two big things to remember when you’re trying to keep mosquitoes away: Drain and cover. Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water, so it’s important to rid your property of breeding habitat. The best protection against mosquito bites are clothing, screens, and repellents.
Drain water from garbage cans, gutters, pool covers, toys, or flower pots.
Throw out bottles, pots, drums, old tires, appliances, or debris that may collect water around your home.
Empty and clean bird baths and pet dishes a few times a week.
Cover yourself with long pants, long sleeves, shoes and socks when mosquitoes are active.
Repair broken screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home or patio.
Insect repellents with up to 30 percent DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus, methyl nonyl ketone, or IR3535 are effective against mosquitoes. Use them only on exposed skin, and be sure that repellents are approved for children.
Five mosquitoes to know
There are more than 80 species of mosquitoes living in Florida, but the Florida Department of Health Resident’s Guide to Mosquito Control (PDF) suggests that you look out for these five that feed on humans.
Mosquito-borne diseases in Florida
The most common and most deadly mosquito-borne diseases in our region are viruses that have no specific medical treatment or vaccines available. Here are four such diseases that the Florida Department of Health monitored last year.
West Nile: Most people who contract West Nile virus never have any symptoms. About 20 percent of those infected get fevers, headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or rashes. Fewer than 1 percent of people with West Nile develop severe neurological diseases, like encephalitis or meningitis.
In 2014, there were 20 reported cases of West Nile virus in central and northern Florida, and none in Miami-Dade.
Dengue: With as many as 400 million people infected with the dengue virus each year, the disease is among the most common causes of illness and death in the tropics. Symptoms include severe headaches, severe pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and bleeding from the nose or gums.
There were six reported cases of locally acquired Dengue in Miami-Dade county last year.
Chickungunya: Chikungunya is a viral infection with symptoms including fever, joint pain, headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rashes. Many infected with chikungunya experience joint and muscle pain long after they’ve fought off the disease.
Starting in 2013, chikungunya has ravaged the Carribbean, but we avoided it in the U.S. until last year. According to the CDC, only 11 cases of locally acquired chikungunya were reported in the United States in 2014. All of them were in Florida and two were in Miami-Dade.
Saint Louis Encephalitis: Most people infected with Saint Louis Encephalitis feel like they have the flu, but in some people, especially the elderly, Saint Louis Encephalitis can cause serious damage to the central nervous system.
In 2014, there were two reported cases of Saint Louis encephalitis in Northern Florida, and none in Miami-Dade.