Hillsborough County uses software to track mosquitoes

In the summer of 2016, Zika virus brought fear to the minds of many Floridians, especially pregnant women. 

Zika infections cause flu-like symptoms and severe birth defects in babies born to an infected mother. The virus, carried by mosquitoes, spread from the Caribbean to southern parts of the United States, including to people in the Bay Area.

Florida health officials confirmed more than 1,400 Zika infections in 2016. Officials spoke about the development of a vaccine, but one was never put on the market.

"We don't have any disease activity going on right now," said Leonard Burns, a mosquito surveillance manager for Hillsborough County.

Burns begins every day at a microscope, examining a haul of hundreds of mosquitoes caught in dozens of traps spread out through Hillsborough County.

"I've had as many as 10,000 in a trap," said Burns. "Anytime you have heavy rainfall or a hurricane, then we're going to be busy."

Mosquito control workers inspect the insects for diseases and determine what species is the most prevalent throughout the county. Knowing the type of mosquito allows them to pinpoint where the insect is likely breeding, so crews are able to go to specific areas to spray insecticides.

Mosquito controllers said they are not letting their guard down as we enter the rainy, summer season when mosquitoes tend to breed more often.

As residents call in to report a mosquito issue, new software allows field technicians to get the request instantly and respond faster to spray insecticides. They can also track rainfall totals by neighborhood to determine what areas will likely need a spraying following a storm.

The Zika-carrying mosquito, known as the Aedes Aegypti, still exists countywide, however, the insect does not appear to be carrying the virus, according to mosquito control officials.

As of this April of 2018, 14 Zika cases have been reported in the United States. Each case was contracted by international travelers.

County officials said now is not the time for residents to get complacent.

While Zika mosquitoes tend to breed most often in standing water found in tires at auto shops and vases at cemeteries, areas around the home can be just as vulnerable, such as planters, trash cans, clogged rain gutters and children's toys left outside that can hold water.

"We don't want to be reactive to people being sick. We don't want people to get sick. That's what we're here for, public health. We want to keep the residents of Hillsborough County safe," said Donnie Hayes, Hillsborough County Mosquito Control Manager.

The county plans to once again offer mosquito-eating fish free of charge to residents this summer to put in areas that can not be drained, such as fountains around their homes.