According to mosquito control experts, Florida’s unseasonably warm winter has helped mosquitoes remain active in many parts of the state and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit Zika and other dangerous diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya, are still present at levels usually seen during summer months.
As a top tourist destination, Florida also remains susceptible to travel-related cases of Zika, which can lead to locally acquired cases.
During his recent State of the State Address, Gov. Rick Scott stressed the importance of tourism — it is by far our single largest economic driver. We cannot forget the impact that Zika and a related U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel advisory had on tourism in Miami-Dade County, which saw hotel tax revenue drop four months in a row in 2016 — a streak that had not been seen since the Great Recession.
Unfortunately, the risks of the 2017 mosquito season are quickly becoming a reality. This year so far, the Florida Department of Health has reported 28 travel-related Zika infections, two locally acquired Zika infections and 16 pregnant women with lab evidence of Zika.
That’s why I’m supporting the Florida Mosquito Control Association’s request for an additional $1.2 million in funding over the $2.66 million allocated in the 2016-17 state budget toward mosquito control efforts and research. It is imperative that local mosquito control organizations have the ability to remain vigilant and well-positioned to implement more effective ways to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes ignore county lines. While some larger counties may have robust control programs, smaller neighboring counties may not have similar budgets, which can greatly reduce the overall effectiveness. That is why it is important for us, as lawmakers, to ensure that we are treating this as a statewide issue and allocate funding appropriately.
If we do not take steps now to enable our local mosquito control programs, it could have serious consequences for the health and well-being of our residents, and could further affect our vital tourism industry.
With a warm winter behind us and the rainy season ahead of us, we need to work together to help ensure the safety of our residents and visitors. Allocating additional funding for organizations on the front lines of the fight against Zika is an important next step.
MATT CALDWELL, FORT MYERS
Editor’s note: Matt Caldwell represents District 79 in the Florida House of Representatives.