Summer, Mosquitoes and Health Alerts

Get out your nets, sprays and long sleeves. It’s mosquito season, and the Florida Department of Health has issued an advisory about chikungunya fever, a mosquito-borne disease.

Originating from Asia, Africa and islands in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, the virus has been spread to Caribbean countries via travelers to the region and the dispersal of mosquitoes, according to Sergio Segarra, M.D., chief of Emergency Medicine at Baptist Hospital of Miami.

“With a large number of people traveling to and from the Caribbean in Florida, we have been monitoring for possible imported cases,” said Carina Blackmore, M.D., deputy state epidemiologist.

Are you concerned? Dr. Segarra has a few answers about chikungunya and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.

What types of diseases are linked to mosquitoes?

Some diseases are spread when an infected person is bitten by a mosquito, and that same insect later bites others. In addition to chikungunya, other viruses transmitted by mosquitoes include:

  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis  
  • Dengue Fever
  • West Nile
  • Malaria
  • Health officials in Florida are concerned because the Aedes mosquito, which carries chikungunya, is the same type of mosquito linked to West Nile and Dengue, which are more common in South Florida.  

    What is the local outlook?

    The Florida Department of Health tracks “imported” cases, which are local residents infected during international trips. Locally contracted cases develop when someone is infected within the state. So far this year, there have been three “imported” cases of chikungunya fever statewide contracted during trips to the Caribbean. The three cases involved one traveler from Miami-Dade County,  one from Broward County, and a third resident from Hillsborough County.

    “The West Nile virus is more common in South Florida,” Dr. Segarra says.

    So far this year, there have been nine cases in Florida, versus 69 cases in 2012. 

    Eastern Equine Encephalitis is rare in Southern Florida, but more common in the Northwest or Central sections of Florida.

    What are the symptoms?

  • Chikungunya: Symptoms develop three to seven days after a bite from an infected bug, according to the Health Department. Signs include severe joint pain and swelling, (especially in the feet and hands), fever, muscle pain, rash and headache.   
  • West Nile or Dengue: Flu-like symptoms are common, including aches, fever and pain. Encephalitis meningitis —inflammation of the brain — develops in less than 1 percent of those infected. Encephalitis can lead to paralysis, coma or death, Dr. Segarra says.
  •  Who is at risk?

    Young babies (especially newborns) and adults age 65 and older face greater risks of developing severe cases when exposed to mosquito-borne diseases, Dr. Segarra says.

    Others at risk include cancer patients, people who are HIV-positive, and others with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

    How important is prevention?

    During mosquito season, prevention is the best cure, according to medical experts.

    “Take away the breeding spots for mosquitoes, especially stagnant water,” Dr. Segarra says. “As part of your hurricane preparations, look for areas where water can collect and keep your gutters clear.”

    The Health Department recommends emptying rain or stagnant water from the following containers:

  • Pool covers.
  • Flower pots.
  • Pools toys.
  • Garbage cans.
  • Check window screens, and stock up on mosquito nets. Remember to wear long sleeves, socks and pants when outdoors at dusk. State Health officials recommend repellant sprays or lotions with DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535 or picaridin. Follow product directions, and avoid using repellents on young children, especially babies who are under two months. ( Mosquito netting can help protect infants.)

    “Chikungunya fever does not often result in death, but some individuals may experience persistent joint pain,” the Florida Department of Health stated. “There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent chikungunya fever. If you feel that you may have contracted chikungunya, see your health care provider.”


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