Walton County health officials issued both a rabies alert and a mosquito borne-illness advisory this week. Some might wonder how they know illnesses like West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis are a threat. Believe it or not, chickens play a vital role in the process.
Mosquito terminators at the South Walton Mosquito Control District are putting in longer working hours this summer and beefing up spray patrol throughout the county.
"We're putting in a lot of extra time, overtime and extra time to try and help the public as much as possible" said pest control worker Dennis Rackenbaugh.
The rainy weather this summer is making their jobs tougher. Mosquito populations are way above normal. Mosquito terminators are hoping to stop the spread of West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, which has already shown-up in Walton County.
A baseline indicator of the increased threat is coming by way of sentinel chickens. Last year less than ten chickens tested positive for the foreign illness. This year that number is up to more than twenty-four.
"Everyone's been saying the mosquitos are going to be bad this year, they're gonna be bad; there was no winter. I saw ice in one ditch this whole winter--that means the mosquitos that would have died from freezing to death this winter didn't and some of those could have been harboring the virus" says SWMCD Director Ben Brewer.
The infected chickens are not a threat to people and mosquitos still pose the greatest risk but even that is rare.
"These species don't generally bite people, but they can and they will.. but they're generally biting birds" added Brewer.
You're urged to follow the five "D's" to protect yourself against mosquitos and the diseases they may carry.
Make sure to drain standing water, dress in light and loose fitted clothing, avoid dusk-to-dawn mosquito feeding times, and defend yourself with mosquito repellent.
So far, there's been only one reported case of triple-E in a human in Holmes County. Health experts say some people may have a mosquito-born illness and not show the symptoms.