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The Villages
Monday, May 27, 2024

Worried residents seek advice on mosquitoes after Villager dies of West Nile Virus

Hundreds of concerned residents still reeling from the recent death of a Villager from West Nile Virus gathered at Fenney Recreation Center on Thursday to get answers about mosquito control programs in the community.

Hundreds of Villagers came to the Fenney Recreation Center on Thursday to get answers about the county’s mosquito-control program following the recent death of a resident from West Nile Virus.

Ironically, the residents, which included those from Fenney and several other areas, were seeking those answers just yards away from where it’s believed that 74-year-old Village of Caroline resident Don Roberts suffered the fatal bite in December. He had been golfing with friends in the Village of Fenney and they had gathered at the community’s nearby fire pit after completing their game.

Thursday’s event was a meet-and-greet that already had been set up by Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin. There were many stations available for the Villagers to learn about their community, but by far the busiest was the one explaining how the county combats mosquitoes through a variety of methods.

Don and Sharlene Roberts

After welcoming the large crowd to his event, Gilpin called Roberts’ death a tragic event and encouraged residents to protect themselves against mosquito bites.

“We all have to be vigilant, being a little older especially, because your immune system weakens a little bit,” he said.

Gilpin encouraged those in attendance to use mosquito spray with DEET, especially in the evening and morning hours. And he said it’s imperative to wear long sleeves and long pants as well.

“It’s no different than where you came from,” he said.

Stephen Kennedy, who serves as assistant county administrator, echoed Gilpin’s sentiments about personal protection. And he said it’s also important for Villagers to protect their property and eliminate areas where mosquitoes might breed.

“A small rut in your yard with standing water is enough for mosquitoes to start to generate activity,” he said. “And with things like bird baths, residents need to be mindful that if it’s standing water for a period of time, that could be an issue.”

The solution, Kennedy said, is a simple one.

“Change it out,” he said. “Just don’t leave it standing there for two months.”

As for Sumter County, Kennedy said residents should know that an aggressive, multi-faceted plan to deal with mosquitoes already is in place.

“We have a very strategic approach,” he said. “We approach it from the perspective of testing throughout the county.”

Kennedy said one of the key methods the county uses is a sentinel chicken program where the animals are tested on a weekly basis.

“If any of them test positive for West Nile or something like that, then that’s a trigger,” he said. “And whenever there’s a trigger, that causes us to look closer at that particular area.”

Kennedy said there’s also a team that goes out and regularly tests standing bodies of water throughout the county.

“If there’s juvenile growth, we treat that,” he said. “That’s how we control that before they get airborne in the adult version of a mosquito.”

Assistant Sumter County Administrator Stephen Kennedy, left, talks to residents about the county’s multi-faceted mosquito-control program.

Kennedy said the county also uses light traps to catch mosquitoes at night, and if more than 25 are caught in a single cycle, that’s also an indication that action needs to be taken.

“That’s a secondary trigger for us,” he said. “And as we find that there are areas with an increased population of adult mosquitoes, we begin to reply more aggressively with treatments.”

But Kennedy cautioned that there are limitations to the methods the county can use to combat the mosquito population.

“There has to be a happy balance between the environment and public safety,” he said. “If we apply too much chemical, we destroy the environment, which secondarily impacts the public. So, our goal right now is a happy balance where we’re ensuring the public is safe, as well as containing that population of mosquitoes.”

Kennedy said he had spoken with several residents who had expressed concerns about their own safety after learning of Roberts’ death from West Nile Virus.

“It’s scary,” he said. “Anytime something like that happens, there’s always a concern. But the good thing is that if anything, it raises a question and people are coming out soliciting information. Hopefully, we can give them a little peace of mind to know that we’re not sitting back waiting. We have a mosquito-control program that is countywide and runs year-round. We are continually testing and continually evaluating.”

That came as good news to Fenney resident Victor Velasquez, who along with Nancy Slaggert moved to The Villages from New Jersey last year. Like many in attendance Thursday, they had plenty of concerns about the mosquito population near their home.

“It gives me peace of mind to know the county has an active program in place,” Velasquez said.

A display put together by Sumter County personnel explain the methods used to combat mosquitoes.

Slaggert agreed but added that she also takes personal precautions.

“I love to walk the nature trail, so I make sure I spray myself when I go outside,” she said.

Velasquez said he’ll continue to use a mosquito repellent that he sprays around his yard through an attachment on his garden hose. And he added that being even more diligent in the war on mosquitoes will be a priority.

“I’ll be more vigilant now about the standing water,” he said. “I had kind of slacked off. But that’s number one. You just can’t have any standing water.”

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