Eliminating Zika-carrying mosquitoes is major focus of researchers

UNF researchers experimenting with compound to stop mosquito larvae from growing

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Local mosquito control workers said they're doing everything they can to keep the Zika virus from spreading in northeast Florida.

The Florida Department of Health told News4Jax on Tuesday that there is a second confirmed case of the virus in St. Johns County. There are now close to 150 cases statewide.

Mosquito-borne illnesses are nothing new, but experts said they're working hard to make sure Zika doesn't spread in the area. St. Johns County crews are spraying to cut down on mosquitoes and the problems that come with them.

They're more than just pesky. Mosquitoes can be dangerous, spreading all kinds of illnesses, including the Zika virus. Local health departments and mosquito control districts are working to keep them in check.

There have been two confirmed cases of Zika in St. Johns County, both travel-related and both contracted somewhere else, but the concern is rising.

"It's not a new mosquito, but it is something that we can do something about," Christopher Bibbs, of Anastasia Mosquito Control District, said.

Anastasia Mosquito Control workers are focusing on downtown St. Augustine, where they've found the type of mosquito most likely to carry the Zika virus.

The company is going door to door to every affected property in the area, looking for places where mosquitos might be breeding, dumping out the water sources, teaching residents and treating the area.

At the same time, researchers at the University of North Florida are testing long-term solutions. They're experimenting with a new compound that they can pour in the water to stop mosquito larvae from growing into full-sized, biting, disease-carrying insects.

"If they don't become mosquitoes with wings, then it seems like it's working?" reporter Vic Micolucci asked.

"Then I am happy. I am a happy camper," Dr. Doria Bowers, professor of biology at UNF, said.

Bowers and her students are already getting attention from the CDC and the military, with hopes that the concoction can someday save lives.

"Mosquito control districts in Florida work so hard," Bowers said. "My hope is that this is one more tool in their arsenal of controlling them."

The experiment should take about a week, but Bowers said if it works, she has no idea how long it would take until experts could use her concoction in the real world. In the meantime, people going outdoors should wear bug spray with DEET, pour out standing water and limit their time outdoors at dusk and dawn.

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