USF Health researchers join Hillsborough and Pinellas County Zika prevention discussions

Educating the public about the ways that the Zika virus is carried in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes is the primary goal of Robert Novak, PhD, professor at the USF College of Public Health Department of Global Health. Novak joined a panel of a dozen city, county, transportation and tourism leaders at the Hillsborough County Center to share the specifics about the certain type of mosquito that carries the virus.

“The Aedes aegypti mosquito is public enemy number one,” Dr. Novak said. “The best way to prevent against the transmission of the Zika virus is to find where they are located and get rid of them.”

Understanding that this species of mosquito is quite different than over 350 other types of mosquitoes is integral to knowing how to control them, according to Dr. Novak.

“They lay their eggs in small pools of water; containers, flowers and flower pots and especially tires and refuse,” he said. “They are not the type that will inhabit and reproduce in ditches and large ponds of water. The most important step in preventing the larvae growth is to ‘spill’ the water every five to seven days, not let it sit.”

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Robert Novak, PhD, USF College of Public Health professor, researches the Aedes aegypti mosquito and describes how they are different from all other mosquitoes.

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Dr. Novak shared images of the primary locations where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes breed, including old tires, flower pots, kiddie pools, and anywhere that small amounts of water gathers in shady areas.

The discussion panel included Hillsborough County Commissioner Lesley Miller, representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Hillsborough School district, The University of Tampa, MacDill Air Force Base and tourism leaders. The Mayor of Temple Terrace, Frank Chillura, and the Mayor of Plant City, Rick Lott, were particularly interested in ways to continue to educate citizens in the community and joined the group in asking Dr. Novak specific questions about the species and how to control the spread of the virus.

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Dr. Novak educated the panel about the specifics of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and answered questions about what makes this type of mosquito unique.

Douglas Holt, MD, director of the Florida Department of Health and professor of medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, shared efforts and strategies on behalf of the state. Dr. Holt spoke about Zika transmission rates, current cases in the state and the length of time that the Zika virus is active in the human body. “It’s generally active for up to 14 days,” Dr. Holt said. He pointed out that little is known about the actual facts in Zika virus transmission and a tremendous amount still needs to be learned.

“We’re learning the facts as we go,” he said. State funding for research and mosquito abatement is consistently changing, with additional funds being allocated per county to aid the control efforts.

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Douglas Holt, MD, director of the Florida Department of Health, shared information about the current status of the Zika virus in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and what is being done to track and test for the virus.

A combined effort with Hillsborough Country Public Works and all municipalities is ongoing, to educate the public about this disease-carrying mosquito, that according to Novak and Hillsborough Public Works Department Director John Lyons, has been a topic of public outreach since the 1940s. He shared an 1945 archival film clip created in Tampa, pointing out that these mosquitos have been a nuisance in the area for more than 70 years. Lyons explained the tracking, treatment and spraying methods that the county currently uses and focused on community involvement, imploring residents to check their own property for standing water. He further explained that spraying methods often do not reach the shady, covered areas that Aedes aegypti prefers for their breeding.

Along with public education campaigns, Lyons and University of South Florida researchers are working on a global information system, or GIS, that uses satellite imagery to identify certain “hot spots,” or areas that include discarded tires and collections of potential breeding areas. The message is strong and clear, “spill it.” The less standing water, the better the chance of keeping the Zika-carrying mosquito at bay.

Earlier this week, a “Partners in Zika Prevention” roundtable discussion drew dozens of Pinellas County residents and municipal partners to the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College. Pinellas County Mosquito Control staff and area experts shared information about the Zika virus, as well as best practices for combating mosquito-borne illness and ongoing prevention efforts with municipal partners and residents.

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The panel of experts for Pinellas County’s “Partners in Zika Prevention” roundtable discussion included Thomas Unnasch, PhD, chair and Distinguished University Health Professor in the USF Department of Global Health.

The Pinellas roundtable panel, moderated by Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Charlie Justice, featured expertise from Thomas Unnasch, PhD, chair and Distinguished Health Professor at the Department of Global Health, USF College of Public Health, who shared insight on methods of Zika transmission by the Aedes agypti mosquito.

Also on the Pinellas panel was Ulyee Choe, MD, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County; John Bennett, assistant county administrator, Public Health, Safety and Welfare; and Brian Lawton, program coordinator, Pinellas County Mosquito Control.

The ongoing conversation on ways for residents to avoid Aedes agypti will continue until there is a clear sign that the Zika virus is no longer a threat to residents of the Bay area.

View mosquito prevention tips from Pinellas County here. For more information about Pinellas County Mosquito Control, visit www.pinellascounty.org/mosquito and in Hillsborough County visit www.HillsboroughCounty.org/Mosquito.

Additional tips for prevention include:

  • Drain all standing water every 5 to 7 days
  • Discard old tires and trash
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pet bowls
  • Cover boats and vehicles with tarps so they do not collect water
  • Maintain the chemistry balance in pools; empty plastic pools
  • Repair leaky pipes
  • Do not let water runoff collect in shady areas