How we can protect ourselves from Zika

Biologist Evaristo Miqueli of the Broward County Mosquito Control office holds a bag of thousands of dead mosquitos his agency has caught in 2016.
Biologist Evaristo Miqueli of the Broward County Mosquito Control office holds a bag of thousands of dead mosquitos his agency has caught in 2016. Phil Galewitz/KHN

Here’s how to protect yourself from Zika right now: Wear long sleeves, use EPA-approved repellent, and get rid of containers that can become mosquito breeding grounds.

Self-protection basics and additional tips you can find at http://news.ifas.ufl.edu/2016/06/ufifas-expert-has-five-tips-to-reduce-mosquitoes-around-your-home/ from the University of Florida come from decades of public scientists’ focus on the world’s deadliest animal.

Here’s how to protect ourselves from Zika in the long-term: Scientific research and a coordinated effort to share the results with Floridians.

You’re fortunate not only to have what’s believed to be the largest academic entomology department in the nation, but to have an entire University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences research campus two hours north in Vero Beach, dedicated to slaying mosquitoes and other disease-spreading insects.

The UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) can generate tip sheets for the public as soon as the latest mosquito-borne malady hits our state. But to figure out how to stop the spread of disease requires experienced scientists, modern laboratories, and research funding.

We’ve got the first two. The FMEL team is a mosquito strike force that has done valuable work in its labs to counter public health threats such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria.

We need our own science for slaying mosquitoes. For 60 years we’ve been perfecting it at FMEL. That means knowing the biology of the mosquito, how it spreads disease, what kills it, and how to kill it without damaging a whole bunch of other species in a cloud of pesticides.

The research we do in the coming months will not only help us overcome Zika but better prepare us for the next threat that starts with the nuisance of a mosquito bite.

The first Zika virus-related case of microcephaly in Florida was reported this week. Florida can ill afford individual tragedies or large-scale public health damage from Zika.

Nor can our economy. Our number one industry depends upon outsiders feeling safe visiting our state.

We should not depend upon outsiders for science.

I recently saw a painting in Havana of Cuba’s greatest scientist, Carlos Finlay, telling Walter Reed that it is the mosquito that spreads yellow fever. Putting aside Reed’s failure to heed Finlay’s expertise for years, the painting reinforced for me a determination not to depend on non-Floridians for solutions to Florida problems.

Outsiders can be great scientists, but the core mission of UF/IFAS is to solve Florida’s problems. It’s publicly funded science in the service of society.

Conversely, we in Florida want to make the whole world a healthier, less hungry, and more prosperous place.

To be clear, though, UF/IFAS starts its focus on its campus. That campus, because of our Extension offices serving all 67 counties, our research centers from Milton to Homestead, and our even more widely scattered classrooms, is the entire state.

How far we can extend our expertise is, of course, dependent on money. That’s why we continue to raise awareness of the importance of supporting public scientists. And it’s why we hope you’ll tell us and tell your neighbors, your representatives and your workmates what public science can do for you.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.