Unsung Floridian Heroes: Mosquito Control

187

By Michael Riles, Entomologist for Beach Mosquito Control District

Since the early days of European exploration, mosquitoes have played a vital role in Florida’s history. They carried disease and were considered a serious major pest that made it extremely difficult to establish homesteads and communities across the state. In 1870 and 1880, outbreaks of Yellow Fever in the central and northern parts of the state took a tremendous toll on humans causing sickness and death, which in turn caused extreme economic hardships and created mass evacuations from cities across Florida. The formation of the Florida State Board of Health in 1889 created the first agency to deal with disease epidemics. At the turn of the twentieth century, the knowledge of mosquitoes transmitting malaria and yellow fever gave the Board of Health a new target to implement control strategies to reduce mosquito populations and suppress the transmission of disease. In 1922, the Florida Anti-mosquito Association was formed; three years after that, the first mosquito control district was formed in Indian River County, Florida.

Twenty-seven years later in Bay County, Beach Mosquito Control District (BMCD), originally formed as The Gulf Mosquito Control District on October 14, 1952, when the citizens of the Panama City Beach area voted to create a mosquito control district. The district’s name was changed in early 1997. Beach Mosquito Control District is an independent special taxing district which is governed by a board of three elected four-year term Commissioners. Funding is received to operate the district through the levying of local ad valorum taxes and state matching funds. The district operates under Chapter 388 of the Florida Statutes and Rule 5E-13 under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Beach Mosquito Control District implemented an arbovirus surveillance section into the agency in 1998 where chickens were used to test for the presence of West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus and Eastern Equine encephalitis virus. The program was in response to epidemics of St. Louis encephalitis virus in the early 1990s and West Nile virus in 2001-2002 throughout the state. Testing of mosquitoes for the presence of virus was also a mechanism used by the district, and during the years of 2016-2018, BMCD tested mosquitoes in collaboration with the Florida Depart of Agriculture and Consumer Services when the Zika virus epidemic coursed throughout the state.

Beach Mosquito Control District continues to monitor the presence of virus and the mosquitoes that can possibly transmit them. When the new facility was being built in 2018-2019, a new laboratory was installed. This facility enables the district to test mosquitoes in-house to give a shorter time frame in results for these types of tests. The new lab is set up to test presently and into the future for the needs of the public and the monitoring of the presence of mosquito vectors and the viruses they are known to carry. These types of surveillance give the district much needed information to plan and implement applications to suppress the populations of mosquitoes in our area, protecting our citizens from the bites of mosquitoes.