The fog of war: Team MacDill battles mosquitoes

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Imagine this scenario: the sun begins to rise above the Tampa Bay horizon as two service members jog along the Bayshore Boulevard running trail before beginning their work day.

“This is a perfect time to run; the temperature is great,” says one of the service members.

Suddenly, a faint buzzing sound is heard and becomes louder and louder. Soon, a small itch develops on one of their necks. Smacking the affected area in response, the jogger smashes a pesky mosquito.

“Something needs to be done about these pests,” he sighs.

Coincidentally, members of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron Pest Management team are waging a war against these mosquitoes so Team MacDill can focus on the mission. Although just a three-man team, they tackle the large task of controlling the mosquito population at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

“Our goal is to keep the base population safe from the vector-borne diseases spread by mosquitoes,” said Bill Murphy, the project manager of a local pest control company. “These range from Dengue Fever and West Nile to Zika.”

Murphy conducts the routine “fogging” that occurs primarily on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the early morning throughout MacDill. This time of day is important because he explains it is the “Crepuscular hour,” or the time when insects such as mosquitoes are most active. The fogging route stays the same, but the areas sprayed vary. In order to be as effective as possible, the fogging can only be used when there is wind, but no more than 10 miles per hour so it can spread evenly.

“Fogging to us is considered ‘adulticiding,’ meaning we are spraying a chemical that will kill adult mosquitoes on contact,” said Murphy. “We spray the fog when they are most active, and we focus on areas on base where mosquitos frequently interact with humans.”

Areas such as the jogging trail along Bayshore Boulevard, the golf course and FAMCAMP show very high mosquito activity. They are routinely fogged with a chemical, Kontrol 44, which is very effective against adult mosquitoes. The fogger truck is calibrated to deliver 1.2 ounces of the chemical per acre of land making its distribution diluted.

“The chemical is very similar to what Hillsborough County uses, and it poses little risk to humans or pets,” said Michael Flach, the chief of environmental flight assigned to the 6th CES. “Federal research shows that exposure to it is not considered dangerous.

“With how diluted it is, people shouldn’t be alarmed if they accidentally inhale it.”

The Pest Management team is working to acquire more methods for treating mosquito larva.

“We ‘larvacide’ based on surveillance of active larva populations,” explained Flach. “Treating larva is much easier, because they’re weaker and require far less chemical to kill than adults and they are concentrated in a smaller area.”

Flach also explained that “larvaciding” is a proactive approach to mosquito control because eradicating them at this stage prevents them from growing into a biting adult. On the other hand, “adulticiding” is reactive and occurs when adult mosquito populations become noticeably high.

“We’re partnered with Hillsborough County Mosquito Control, and our mosquito data is shared with them,” explained Flach. “When it has been noticed that mosquito populations in South Tampa are higher than normal, that’s when we ask HCMC to conduct an aerial spray to reach a wider area.

While treating the problem directly at the source is most effective, Team MacDill can also take preventative measures to reduce bites or the mosquito population in their area.

“There are more than 50 mosquito species in Florida, and two species can travel up to 25 miles in one day,” said Murphy. “That’s why ‘larvaciding,’ as well as active prevention, is very important.

“We encourage service members and their families to clear any standing water in their yard or on their homes.”

These areas include clogged gutters, buckets and loose tires left outside, or anything that can hold water for any length of time.

“Mosquitos can breed thousands of larva in just one cup of water, that’s it,” said Murphy.

The team also recommends wearing light-colored long-sleeved shirts, hats, and wearing bug spray whenever outside.

“Protecting exposed skin is the easiest way to prevent a bite, but we understand running around MacDill this time of year is very hot,” said Flach. “Prevention on your part, as well as our methods of treating the mosquito population go hand-in-hand.”

For more information, please contact 6th CES Pest Management at 813-828-0839.

(Editor’s note: Information contained in this text is subject to change and updates will be made accordingly.)