The Florida Department of Health (FDH) sounded the alarm today ahead of a summer threatened by two mosquito-borne, viral diseases — dengue fever and chikungunya. The department reported 24 people who contracted dengue fever and 18 cases of chikungunya. The sick individuals made recent trips to South America and the Caribbean, which prompted some to only blame these travels. However, many epidemiologists believe Florida’s mosquitoes have bitten infected people and spread it throughout the region.
Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach, did not hold back his fears: “Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat. The threat is greater than I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Officials quickly pointed to the benefits of simply removing standing water from front and back yards, wearing long sleeves and pants and staying inside during the times of day when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
What to Know About Florida’s Mosquito-Borne Illnesses
Let’s get the scary out of the way: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that dengue can be deadly and leave an individual with reminders of this disease for the rest of their lives. The other mosquito-borne illness has the same lasting presence, but chikungunya symptoms are generally limited to fever and joint pain. This does not diminish the toll chikungunya has on individuals, but it is not considered deadly in the majority of cases.
Dengue fever is not new for Floridians. It has made appearances from time to time in various locations throughout the state, with the last major outbreak of the mosquito-borne sickness happening in the late 1930s. The alarm bells have tolled because of the rapid succession of cases, as well as its potential increase at the same time as an introduction of another mosquito-borne threat.
Sadly, chikungunya has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean (specifically, 18 of its countries and territories) and Dominican Republic. Estimates are more than 100,000 and 53,000, respectively, for these islands. There is no end in sight either, with the Dominican Republic reporting hundreds of new patients each day receiving treatment to combat the mosquito-borne illness.