Mosquito Command Center

High tech Weapon Helps Take Fight to Mosquitoes

County's new mapping software provides data to bolster attack plan

Hillsborough County Mosquito Control is bracing for a battle.

Mosquito season runs roughly from April through November, depending on weather. Stakes are high, with the presence in Florida of insects that can carry diseases such as West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and Zika.

Mosquito Control has a new high-tech weapon to confront the menace: a computer mapping system that shows the entire county in real-time detail. The Mosquito Analytics and Response System greatly enhances the agency's ability to identify and manage areas frequented by the insects.

Wall map with push-pin markers.

Mosquito Control stresses prevention over reaction, meaning it much prefers to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and larvae rather than spray insecticide that kills adult mosquitoes. The mapping software, which shows every report of mosquitoes or their larvae submitted to the County, allows Mosquito Control to monitor each of those sites, spot trends, and eliminate insects before they hatch.

In its first month of use, Mosquito Control plotted more than 1,800 larvae production sites.

The computerized map, displayed on two oversized monitors at Mosquito Control's headquarters on Eureka Springs Road, replaces antiquated wall maps and push pins. Field inspectors stay in synch with their supervisors at the command center by carrying tablets that let them monitor problem areas in their assigned regions throughout the county.

Mosquito Control field inspector Ram Maistri submits his findings on a computer tablet.

The new software helps Mosquito Control develop insect-fighting strategies that are based on timely data. Mapping offers insights into mosquitoes' behavior and identifies trouble spots far more effectively than previous tracking methods.

Forty-seven species of mosquitoes exist in Hillsborough County. Only a few of them are known to carry diseases harmful to humans.

That's little comfort to the mosquito fighters. Especially this year. Mosquitoes favor wet areas, and with unusually dry weather, the insects are more likely to congregate in the same pockets of standing water. The intermingling can cause more mosquitoes to become infected with diseases.

Ram Maistri checks a Hillsborough County yard for mosquito larvae.

Residents are encouraged to report these areas and other mosquito problems. Mosquito Control technicians examine the sites, and feed the information into the map's database.

People also can help combat mosquitoes by eliminating the insects' breeding grounds around homes and businesses. Zika-carrying mosquitos, for example, can breed in containers of water as small as a bottle cap. Here are some helpful tips.

Top photo: John Wetmen, left, and Donnie Hayes of Mosquito Control examine an interactive map in the agency’s command center.