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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Phil Keating

Miami, FL

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Dengue Fever Outbreak

August 6, 2010 - 3:46 PM | by: Phil Keating

The anti-mosquito assault squads roam the neighborhoods of Key West, Florida looking for larvae. Specifically, the larvae of the aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the prime carrier of Dengue Fever. After 75 years, Florida is dealing with its first outbreak of Dengue, with more than 50 people already suffering through it the hard–and extremely–painful way:

“I’ve had kidney stones. This was worse. I never want to have it again,” says Richard Branch, a Navy Lieutenant stationed in Key West. He ended up having to be hospitalized in Miami after a mosquito carrying the Dengue virus got him.

“On Monday I had fever. Tuesday the pain was horrible. Wednesday, I couldn’t walk. Thursday, my gums were bleeding.”
That’s why Dengue is also known as “breakbone fever.” There is no vaccine and the only cure is to ride it out.

How did Dengue suddenly show up in the Florida Keys after so many decades at bay? The Centers for Disease Control and Florida Health Officials have been investigating and their leading theory is that a tourist acquired Dengue somewhere in the tropics, and then unknowingly brought it to Key West. Since it takes about a week between the infectious bite to the symptoms showing up, health officials worry that, now that Dengue is in Key West, tourists may get infected, fly home and then spread Dengue to other cities and states.

While it is officially an “outbreak,” the number of known infections is pretty small, about 50 people. But Key West’s Mosquito Director thinks the real number of people infected is likely 10 times higher, just under reported.

Dengue cannot be spread from human to human, only human to mosquito to human to mosquito and so on. When the mosquito “bites” the human (usually around the exposed ankle) a tiny amount of the mosquito’s saliva goes under the person’s skin. If that mosquito is a Dengue carrier, that person now has it. Then, once that person gets “bitten” by another mosquito, that mosquito passes it onto its next victim.

Key West has an intense anti-mosquito program, with its teams spreading poison pellets in areas of standing water and spraying chemicals many times a day.

Worldwide, 50 to 100 million people succumb to the painful Dengue Fever each year, with about 25,000 dying.

The good news for humans wearing shorts, tank tops and flip flops in the scorching Key West summer heat is that preventing the Dengue infection is quite easy: spray your skin with DEET-containing mosquito spray generously before you leave the house, which most Key West locals now do regularly.

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