BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Experts agree that one effective way to protect yourself against mosquitoes —and the diseases they can transmit — is to wear mosquito repellent. But for homeless people, getting access to this kind of protection can be difficult.
In response, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Hernando County launched Operation Skeeter Stop. Through this program, organizers collected 313 donated containers of mosquito repellent and distributed them to the Hernando County homeless community through the Homeless Ministry of Brooksville and the Bread of Life Ministry.
Operation Skeeter Stop is a collaboration among several UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County programs, including Florida Sea Grant, Florida Friendly Landscaping, 4-H Youth Development and Florida Master Gardeners, along with Hernando County Mosquito Control and the Florida Department of Health, said Brittany Scharf, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County Florida Sea Grant agent.
“We are very appreciative of all the help we’ve gotten from so many different groups, including the Hernando County Master Gardeners, Boy Scouts, homeschool groups and churches,” Scharf said. “Overall, we hope that we’ve raised awareness in our community of the importance of using proper mosquito repellent as a way to prevent bites and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Those who have received the repellent have been very grateful and have been requesting more.”
Scharf, William Lester and Stacy Strickland organized Operation Skeeter Stop as part of the Zika Challenge, a UF/IFAS Extension program that gives Extension faculty the tools to spread public awareness about mosquito control. Lester is the UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County horticulture agent, and Strickland is the UF/IFAS Hernando County Extension director and agriculture agent.
“Anyone is at risk for getting bitten by a mosquito,” Lester said, “so it’s important that those without easy access to repellent, such as the homeless, get the protection they need. Mosquito season never really ends in Florida, though it does ramp up as the weather gets warmer. We hope to hold another collection drive again in the spring and summer months.”
As part of Operation Skeeter Stop, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County faculty have produced five educational videos that debunk some common mosquito myths and explain how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in home landscapes. Videos are available at http://bit.ly/2hgskhN.
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