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Florida Health Officials Warn About Mosquito Borne Diseases and Possible Outbreak

Florida Mosquito Diseases

Florida health officials are warning residents about two mosquito-borne diseases that could pose a threat this summer.

“Florida is under an imminent threat from dengue and chikungunya,” said Walter Tabachnick, director of the University of Florida-affiliated Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, the state’s leading research lab on the biology of mosquitoes and mosquito-transmitted diseases. “The public needs to know that, and needs to take care of their environment by cleaning up.”

There are already scattered cases of both diseases, and experts are worried the state may be on the edge of an outbreak. "The threat is greater than I've seen in my lifetime," said Tabachnick.

“We are not saying, ‘There is a danger of you coming to Florida now.’ And we are not saying, ‘Even if there is a chikungunya outbreak, there will be one,’ ” Tim O´Connor, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County says. “What we want to say is that even if there is a chikungunya outbreak, we can say, ‘There still is no danger coming to Florida because we have it under control.’ ”

O´Connor says the virus is under control locally, but the main concern is for people who travel to the Caribbean.

“Especially the island of Hispañola, where we have seen the most cases," he says. "If they do experience symptoms, like, when they come back to the United States, they should report to their physicians.”

Chikungunya and dengue are carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that is common in the region and in Florida.

Dengue is a flu-like disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about half of infected people show no symptoms. For the other half, it causes high fever, rash, muscle pain, and joint pain. Most patients recover in two to seven days, but in some severe cases, it can cause severe bleeding, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and even death. It is a very painful disease, having earned the nickname “breakbone fever.” There is no cure or vaccination for the disease; patients can only be treated for its symptoms.

Chikungunya is similar to the dengue disease. It also causes fever, rash, muscle pain, and joint pain. Chikungunya, like dengue, is extremely painful. Its name is derived from an African word that roughly translates as “to become contorted.” This describes the stooped appearance of its sufferers.

Both diseases cause pain that can linger for years after initial symptoms have disappeared.

Controlling mosquitoes is key to preventing the spread of the diseases, experts say.

“One of their prime habitats is the things you find around the house or out in your yard,” Tabachnick said of the blood-sucking nuisance insects. “That is why the public needs to change its behavior.”

“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.”

Related Stories:

Dengue Fever in Florida Keys, CDC Reports

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