In this election, voters in the Keys will cast some ballots that are unusual even for South Florida. They'll decide who leads the county's war on mosquitoes.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board meets once a month with one primary mission: "To make sure that there is no disease spread in the Florida Keys by mosquitoes," said Stephen Smith, the board's chairman.
If the FDA approves, the Keys could become the first in the U.S. to release the mosquitos, which are intended to reduce the population of aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry diseases including dengue fever, malaria and chikungunya.
"There are two reasons that Florida became a state," says Vasquez. "Mosquito control and air conditioning."
The concept of mosquito control is two-fold: Spray to protect from diseases spread by mosquitoes like dengue fever, and now chikungunya, and to make a bug-infested swampland actually livable for people.
Like every other state, Florida has two statues in the U.S. Capitol that honor notable people in the state’s history. Dr. John Gorrie is one of them, because he pioneered a contraption in the mid-1800s that changed our lives: Air conditioning.
Palm Beach County is now joining efforts to fight the mosquito-transmitted virus known as Chikungunya, which so far has infected one person in the county and 10 people total in the state.
The virus is rarely fatal but symptoms can include chronic pain that lasts for years.
“Look at your house, environment, make sure that you don´t have any standing water," says Tim O´Connor, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County. "If you do, drain it off as much as possible.”
At dusk during a hot Miami summer, when you’re outside getting chewed on by countless mosquitoes, it’s easy to wonder how anyone ever decided to settle in South Florida.
The mosquitoes, in fact, were so bad for some early South Floridians that they had rooms at the front of their frontier shacks called “losers,” which contained smudge pots and palmetto branches to literally “lose” all of the bugs from your body before entering.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed to work with a British company looking to test out genetically-modified mosquitoes in the U.S.
British biotechnology company Oxitec Ltd has been waiting for a U.S. federal agency to sign on as a partner so they could test out these altered mosquitoes in Key West.
In the past few years, Key West has had a problem with mosquitoes in the area spreading Dengue-- but Oxitec thinks they can kill off a large part of this mosquito population with their altered mosquitoes.