Broward News

Florida Mosquito Virus Expert: "The Threat Is Greater Than I've Seen in My Lifetime"

More than 100,000 cases have been reported in the Caribbean. About 53,000 have cropped up in the Dominican Republic. And South Floridians traveling to those two places might be responsible for bringing an epidemic home.

Chikungunya, the oddly named disease that's spread through mosquitoes, has infected 18 people in Florida so far. But with every victim, the likelihood of the virus going viral increases. Although it's rarely fatal, the symptoms of the disease can drag on like The English Patient or Jennifer Lopez's career. Some people experience joint pain and depression for years after a single bite.

Not only do Floridians need to watch out for chikungunya but there's another disease called dengue fever lurking around the swamp and threatening to seriously mar the next two to five years of their lives. Twenty-four people here have been infected by dengue so far, which rivals two local outbreaks in the 1930s that were concentrated around Jensen Beach and Key West.

See also: Palm Beach County Man Becomes Fourth in Florida to Contract Chikungunya

But experts fear this dengue outbreak won't be confined to one small community. They say the threat of it going statewide is imminent. Not only that, but people can be infected by both dengue and chikungunya at the same time, and 42 people have been infected by one or the other so far.

"The threat is greater than I've seen in my lifetime," Walter Tabachnick, an entomological lab director told Reuters after the health department released its latest report on the viruses.

Dengue fever is much like chikungunya in terms of its symptoms, and both are rarely seen in North America. So far, every Florida victim has traveled to either South America or the Caribbean before bringing it back home. But all it takes is one victim to get bitten by a native bug that bites someone else in turn and we've got a straight-up epidemic on our hands of extremely tired, constantly aching, and forever-bitter people.

Officials are asking for people to clear up pools of standing water to reduce the mosquito population overall.

"If there is public apathy and people don't clean up [their] yards, we're going to have a problem," Tabachnick warned.

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.