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As dengue arrives in South Florida, here's how to deal with the mosquitoes that carry it

A female Aedes albopictus mosquito acquiring a blood meal from a human host.
James Gathany
FILE - This 2003 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes albopictus mosquito acquiring a blood meal from a human host. Dengue, a tropical illness caused by a virus, is spread by Aedes mosquitos, a type of warm weather insect that is expanding its geographic reach because of climate change, experts say.

Two cases of locally contracted dengue fever were confirmed by health officials in Monroe County this week.

The viral infection is not contagious, but is transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

Dengue can present as a flu-like illness with severe muscle aches, joint pain, fever and sometimes a rash, according to the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County.

In response to the new cases, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is increasing its mosquito control tactics in Key Largo and Upper Matecumbe Key.

The control district will be conducting door-to-door inspections, implementing enhanced monitoring by trapping and testing mosquitoes for mosquito-borne diseases, and applying “aerial larvicide and adulticide” treatments as necessary.

To place a service request with FKMCD, visit www.keysmosquito.org or call 305-292-7190.

READ MORE: Health officials tell U.S. doctors to be alert for dengue as cases ramp up worldwide

Mosquito season runs from March to October in Florida, with mosquitoes being most active when temperatures are in the upper 70s to 90s, according to the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Here’s how health and mosquito control officials say you can better avoid being bitten by potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes:

Stop the breeding

Property owners may help mitigate mosquito-borne illness risks in one simple way: helping to eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites. Mosquitos breed in standing water, and it only takes as little as one teaspoon of water standing for more than one week for mosquitoes to breed, according to the FDOH.

Aedes Aegypti is the mosquito species responsible for carrying several deadly diseases, including dengue fever.

"Aedes aegypti lives and breeds almost exclusively in the presence of people," said Chad Huff, a spokesperson for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. Huff said they also typically live within a 200-foot radius from where they're born.

Homeowners can eliminate potential breeding pools by turning over and removing empty pots, buckets, trash cans, recycle bins, pet bowls and children’s toys from where they can fill with rain or water.

It’s also critical to check tarps and equipment on boats and make sure gutters are clear and free of debris, according to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. Homeowners should also regularly flush fresh water into bromeliads, hanging plants and bird baths.

Use repellent

The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) recommends using insect repellent on exposed skin or clothing, but not under. Officials also recommend reading repellent labels before applying to determine the right usage as some are not safe for children or to be applied directly to skin. To treat clothing and other gear, FDOH recommends using products with 0.5% permethrin, which should not be applied to skin. Permethrin is the only insect repellent currently used for factory treatment of clothing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wear the right clothing

When you need to be outside, Florida health officials say to cover up with socks, shoes, long pants and long-sleeve shirts.

Fortify your home

Keep screens on your windows and repair any damage or small holes to the screens as they happen.

Florida Department of Health tips on how to combat Dengue.
Florida Department of Health tips on how to combat diseases spread by mosquitoes like dengue.

For tips in Spanish, click here. For tips in Haitian Creole, click here. More information at the Florida Department of Health website.

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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