Florida residents face a serious threat from dengue fever and chikungunya - two mosquito borne illnesses that are sweeping towards South Florida, according to heath officials.
The Florida Department of Health (FDH) revealed in its latest weekly report that 24 people have been confirmed with dengue fever in Florida. An additional 18 people were also identified with cases of chikungunya. Both these painful illnesses are not very fatal, but they have been identified as resilient and debilitating by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Florida health investigators have found that all of these patients had recently traveled to the Caribbean and South America, where these viruses are very prevalent. However, they warn that at least some of these cases might be the result of disease migration, as the mosquitoes that carry these diseases could head North as temperatures warm.
"These mosquitoes know no borders," Phyllis Kozarsky, a physician with the CDC in Atlanta, told media last month.
Only weeks ago, the Pan-American Health Organization revealed that more than 65,000 suspected cases of chikugunya virus alone have occurred in the Americas, with the majority of them prevalent in the Carribean Islands. The world has seen more than 103,000 cases this year.
The mosquitoes don't have to head North either. Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach, told Reuters that Floridian mosquito populations can be introduced to the diseases simply by feeding off an infected human, who could have in-turn picked up the disease during international travel.
"Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat," he said, adding that, due to the prevalence of both diseases in other countries, this is the greatest threat he has seen in his 30 years working the field.
Unlike the debilitating but non-fatal chukugunya virus, dengue fever has been known to kill the untreated and frail in rare instances. The CDC says that the disease traditionally infects about 400 people a year, but over the past three months alone it has raised over 960 alerts in the Southern Hemisphere, some of which occurred in Florida.
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