One of the largest threats to the health of each Floridian weighs less than a drop of water and lives within a few steps of everyone, every minute of every day.
Mosquitoes are called the world’s deadliest animal for a reason. They transmit diseases that can cause illness or even death. We are facing a potentially severe public health risk as travelers carrying those diseases flood our state from other parts of the world. While this is an unprecedented time in modern mosquito control, Florida is fortunate to have the nation’s leading team of scientists, health professionals, and public servants working 24/7 to keep our state safe and our economy strong.
To better understand where we are today, we need to look at our history.
Some of the worst mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever were temporarily eliminated in the 1950s and 60s by using newly developed pesticides. For nearly 50 years, they allowed most mosquito control efforts in Florida to make great progress controlling nuisance mosquito species. That work helped transform our state into a year-round tourist destination and an idyllic place to work and live.
Mosquito control continued to evolve into a very complex science using technologies from every physical and life science. But at the same time, mosquito-borne diseases were rapidly increasing worldwide. After the year 2000, as international travel into Florida increased significantly from countries where many mosquito-borne diseases are endemic, these diseases again began to increase in our state.
This threat continues to increase closer to home. Last year, more than 30 Florida counties were impacted by mosquito-borne diseases. This included several South Florida counties recording the largest dengue fever outbreak in the United States in more than 75 years.
And it continues to grow today. Last year, malaria was locally transmitted in Florida for the first time in more than 20 years. Other mosquito-borne diseases such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus continue to appear in several Florida counties.
With international travel into Florida continuing to increase, we expect mosquito-borne diseases to also increase. This places new demands on mosquito control professionals. Before, the biggest threat with a mosquito bite was temporary discomfort and aggravation.
The stakes are much higher now; people can get sick, suffer neurological problems for life, or even die.
As a result, the focus of mosquito control districts and programs now includes very proactive and robust disease control, and chemical pesticides are still our main weapons.
A complication has created a new challenge as some of the disease-carrying mosquitoes have become resistant to some of the better chemical pesticides used today, thus reducing their effectiveness.
This has created an urgent need for new technologies. Fortunately, the science of mosquito control is in the midst of a real technology boom with Florida at the forefront.
This boom has created many new engineering developments to disperse our treatments more precisely and effectively than ever before. There are now mosquito traps that kill mosquito larvae using sound waves. There are also, in use and in development, several technologies using various modified mosquitoes, rather than pesticides, to lower disease-carrying mosquito populations.
We use drones and helicopters to control mosquitos in bogs and marshes and the Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the first new pesticide for mosquito control use in 50 years.
These are just a few of the new technologies that are being used in Florida to reduce these disease threats. We have come a long way in mosquito control in Florida in the past 70 years but there is still more to do. This is not the time for any of us to drop the ball. The hundreds of dedicated scientists and technicians that make up Florida’s mosquito control programs are working diligently to find good solutions to these increased threats and to keep our residents and visitors comfortable and safe.
This op-ed was written by Phil Goodman, Chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, Florida Mosquito Control Association Board Member.