TAMPA, Fla. - Jean and Ira Steinberg enjoy an afternoon stroll through Sawgrass Lake Park in Pinellas County, unaware of a new threat: "Triple E" or Eastern equine encephalitis. "Encephalitis can be a very dangerous disease. Some of the symptoms are headaches and weakness. Later it progresses - in one third of the cases it's even deadly," said Maggie Hall, with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.
The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. "I was alarmed by that. We don't expect to see mosquitos here this time of year," Jean Steinberg said.
The folks at Mosquito Patrol monitor the mosquito population daily and say they are out there thanks to recent rains. And they know exactly where because of mosquito traps and 56 sentinel chickens in eight locations across the county. The chicken that tested positive lives at Sawgrass Lake Park. "So we monitor the surrounding neighborhood around the chicken coop and do what we can to reduce the mosquito populations," said Jason Stuck, entomology technician for Pinellas County Mosquito Control.
That includes treating the standing water with chemicals to kill mosquito and mosquito larvae. "We need the homeowners to help us. We're taking care of the big land, but individual homes, there's not enough of us, so we need their help in emptying their containers and get rid of any standing water," Stuck said.
The county will even bring you some Gambezi, or mosquito eating fish, for ponds or abandoned neighborhood pools if make a request.
"If people are nervous about it and they're going to be out, just exercise good mosquito prevention habits. For example mosquitos feed at dawn and dusk, so try not to be out during those times of the day if possible. Wear long sleeves so they don't bite exposed skin. Use a mosquito repellant," said Hall.
Triple E is rare but also deadly. It takes four to 10 days after the bite to develop symptoms.
The early signs are:
- poor appetite
- stiff back or neck.
More severe symptoms are:
- difficulty walking
- sensitivity to light
- seizures or loss of consciousness
For more information go to: www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/gen/qa.html