HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Once a cook at Busch Gardens, Eric Long’s career path took a very different turn several years ago when he applied to work for Hillsborough County.
“I saw there was a position called Spray Equipment Operator,” he said. “I thought it had something to do with painting.”
He got the job and learned he wouldn’t be painting. Instead, he’d be working with the county’s Mosquito Control department, which strives to reduce mosquito populations through treatment, prevention, and education.
Four years later, he’s now Hillsborough County’s Mosquito Management Program supervisor.
“Sometimes I go home, and I still can’t stop working,” he said. “Especially right now — we’re right now in the peak of mosquito season right now, so it’s of pretty big importance to the county.”
According to Hillsborough County, various species of mosquitoes are vectors of several illnesses, including West Nile virus and equine encephalitis. Last week, the county issued a health advisory after arbovirus dengue — also known as dengue fever — was detected in several cases connected with international travel. Dengue is also an illness spread by certain mosquitoes.
While Hillsborough County said the risk of dengue remains low, Long and his team are increasing their efforts to fight the bite.
Particularly, he hopes homeowners and renters will audit their yards for potential mosquito breeding sites. According to The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), mosquitoes that are classified as container breeders deposit their eggs in standing water in either natural or manmade vessels.
“They’re the types of mosquitoes that people breed normally in their own backyards and their yards, and they don’t know about it — just for little spotty things,” explained Long.
Inspecting a typical Hillsborough County yard, Long pointed out some of the areas that are common mosquito-breeding culprits.
Some of them are more obvious: clogged gutters, tarps and grill covers, and buckets.
Many of the spots, however, are less apparent.
Moving into the alleyway behind the home, Long spotted a discarded trash bag, a wrinkle of which collected a small pool of leftover rainwater. Beside it, the lid of a rusty paint can also held a small amount.
“This right here, you could have thousands of mosquitoes breeding inside of this right here,” he said. “What mosquitoes will typically do, they will lay their eggs in the water. Typically, they hatch, depending on the habitat they’re in.”
He also pointed out other less glaring examples where standing water was hiding: a tube used to launch fireworks which was stored behind a shed, children’s toys, the rim of an overturned trash can, the waxy leaves of a potted bromeliad, and the home’s in-ground water meter box.
“All that water inside — ground zero for mosquitoes as well,” Long said as he ladled some of it out.
As mosquito-borne illnesses continue to spread, Long hopes people will be more cognizant of their own yards and homes.
His advice? Check for and dump standing water regularly. Move any problem objects that could be better stored elsewhere.
To Long, they’re simple steps that could make a big difference. Sometimes, the mosquitoes that plague an entire neighborhood are hatched from one source.
“We’re probably not going to eliminate them, but we’re trying our best just to hold them back,” he said.
More resources are available from Hillsborough County at this link.