Mosquitoes are more than just pests; they can be dangerous – and even deadly – for people and animals alike. Here, in Florida, we have our share of mosquitoes, especially during the summer. While the bites themselves cause mild irritation and itching, diseases that may be transferred as a result of a bite are the big health concern.
Here are some mosquito-borne viruses that may infect Floridians:
West Nile Virus
First identified in Uganda in 1937, West Nile Virus made headlines in the United States in 2012 when an epidemic of this mosquito-borne illness resulted in the second highest number of cases ever reported in Florida - and claimed the lives of 286 people nationwide. West Nile Virus has been identified in 48 states and all 67 Florida counties.
Only about 20% of infected people show any symptoms, and less than 1% of infected people develop the most severe form of the disease. In these severe cases; however, West Nile may lead to meningitis and encephalitis and cause permanent nerve damage, paralysis, coma or death.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus
As you may have inferred from the name, Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus was first identified in horses. The virus is now known to infect mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Most outbreaks occur in summer, but they are possible throughout the year in Florida.
Symptoms including fever, muscle pains and severe headache generally appear within 10 days of a person being bitten by an infected mosquito and get worse over time. If the patient doesn’t recover within a couple of weeks, encephalitis-like symptoms including seizures, vomiting and neurological issues set in and coma or death may follow. Approximately 30-45% of people with encephalitis from this virus will die from the disease.
This virus is responsible for Dengue Fever, also sometimes referred to as Breakbone Fever. The symptoms of this disease are similar to that of the flu: joint pain, headaches, fever and muscle aches. An additional symptom seen is a rash similar to measles. In severe cases, hemorrhagic fever may develop, which can be fatal.
Cases have been reported in the Keys during 2009-2010 and in Martin county, Florida, in 2013. Most of these cases were due to people traveling to an area such as the Caribbean, Central and South America and Asia.
Chikungunya is a fairly new virus. Most of the reported cases in the U.S. have been due to people returning from areas where the disease is prevalent (certain parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean). In July 2014, two locally-transmitted cases were diagnosed in Florida.
The principle symptom of Chikungunya Virus is excruciating joint pain. It’s not usually fatal, but the pain can last several weeks.
Zika virus has found itself in the news, as multiple cases have been reported in the United States. The cases originally found in the United States have been the result of people returning from areas where the disease can be found in high numbers of the population (namely Central and South America, Puerto Rico and certain parts of the Caribbean). Recently, cases of Zika in a Miami neighborhood have authorities concerned, as the virus seems to be spreading among its residents. Increased mosquito control and citizen education programs have begun in that area to combat the further spread of the virus.
Symptoms of Zika are flu-like. In most cases, those infected either have mild to no symptoms. There is a disturbing correlation scientists have not definitively proven though. It seems that pregnant women who become infected with the virus run a higher chance of giving birth to a child with microcephaly (a birth defect causing small head size and brain abnormalities). For this reason, the CDC has advised that pregnant women should postpone travel to areas with Zika until their children are born.
All of the diseases previously listed have no human vaccines available, so you can see how important it is to protect yourself from mosquitoes to avoid exposure to any of these nasty viruses! To protect yourself from mosquitoes, wear protective clothing and use insect repellents outdoors. You should also check door and window screens for holes or tears and eliminate standing water near your home. We have a mosquito reduction program, as well, that will assist in lessening the mosquito pressure around your home.