The Caribbean

Floridians urged to clean up to prevent new mosquito-borne viruses

 

As a painful mosquito-borne virus continues to rapidly spread in the hemisphere, public health and mosquito experts call on Floridians to be proactive.

 
FILE- In this undated file photo provided byt he USDA, an aedes aegypti mosquito is shown on human skin.
FILE- In this undated file photo provided byt he USDA, an aedes aegypti mosquito is shown on human skin.
Uncredited / ASSOCIATED PRESS

jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

Florida public health and mosquito-control experts are calling on homeowners to clean up to prevent the spread of dengue, and of another painful, mosquito-borne virus that is rapidly spreading across the hemisphere.

“Florida is under an imminent threat from dengue and chikungunya,” said Walter Tabachnick, director of the University of Florida-affiliated Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, the state’s leading research lab on the biology of mosquitoes and mosquito-transmitted diseases. “The public needs to know that, and needs to take care of their environment by cleaning up.”

Tabachnick led a workshop Tuesday and Wednesday at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce for about 120 health and mosquito-control experts who exchanged ideas on how to prepare the state for outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya, which has been jumping from island to island since it was first detected in the region in December in the French territory of St. Martin.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported 4,406 confirmed cases of chikungunya in the region, although Haiti’s health ministry last week said it had confirmed 15,578 cases there. PAHO has reported more than 103,000 suspected cases, including 38,639 in the Dominican Republic.

Chikungunya and dengue are carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that is common in the region and in Florida.

Controlling mosquitoes is key to preventing the spread of the diseases, experts say.

“One of their prime habitats is the things you find around the house or out in your yard,” Tabachnick said of the blood-sucking nuisance insects. “That is why the public needs to change its behavior.”

Chikungunya has spread to 17 countries plus the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, according to PAHO. There are also reports that Barbados and Chile were investigating their first suspected cases of the virus, which is rarely fatal but has been linked to 14 deaths in people who were already sick.

So far, Florida has not reported any locally transmitted cases of the virus, but there are 18 cases of imported chikungunya from travelers who visited countries with an outbreak, according to the Florida Department of Health’s website.

Health experts say the disease could follow the same pattern as dengue fever, which remains difficult to control.

While Florida has reported 16 cases of dengue fever this year, the hemisphere experienced its worst dengue outbreak in history last year. There were 2.3 million dengue cases, PAHO said, including 1,289 deaths.

“Controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the disease, is a great regional and global challenge,” said Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO’s department of communicable diseases and health analysis. “All government sectors, communities and families have to work together to fight the vector and control this disease, which knows no borders, discriminates against no one, and is everyone’s problem, not just the health sector’s.”

Tabachnick said steps need to be taken by local officials and policymakers to combat the virus should it arrive. Discussions, for instance, focused on improved surveillance to locate mosquitoes then to reduce their populations.

Tabachnick also called on the public to get rid of standing water and large vases, buckets or anything in yards that holds water. This also means cleaning up bird baths and abandoned swimming pools.

“We are not saying, ‘There is a danger of you coming to Florida now.’ And we are not saying, ‘Even if there is a chikungunya outbreak, there will be one,’ ” he said. “What we want to say is that even if there is a chikungunya outbreak, we can say, ‘There still is no danger coming to Florida because we have it under control.’ 

So far, governments are struggling to keep things under control where there have been outbreaks.

In Haiti, health officials have stepped up surveillance as the virus quickly spreads across the island, which is shared by the Dominican Republic. Health Minister Florence Guillaume dismissed rumors that another virus — Zika, which is also carried by the same mosquito — had arrived on the island.

“We have a fairly substantial Haiti epidemiological surveillance system overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization,” she said. “There is no reason to date suggests that this fever Zika is in Haiti. However, we continue our surveillance.”

International public health epidemiologists with the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the Centers for Disease Control also said they were monitoring, and so far have found no signs of Zika in the Americas. They, too, have called on people to protect themselves with insect repellant and to remove standing water.

Read more Haiti stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
President of the Haitian Senate Simon Desras.

    Haiti

    U.S. lawmakers to Haiti Senate: Vote for election law

    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have written to Haitian Senate President Simon Desras calling on Haitian senators to pass the legislation necessary for long overdue elections to take place this year.

  •  
A supporter of Haiti's former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide holds up a picture of him, while demonstrating in front of his house during a protest in his support, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Supporters of the former president have been blocking the street in front of his house as the popular former leader faces possible arrest for not providing court-ordered testimony in a criminal investigation.

    Haiti

    Despite election delays, Aristide remains focus

    Defying a judge’s order, opposition leaders in Haiti plan to visit former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was put under house arrest last week as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

  •  
Haiti's first lady Sophia Martelly, right, talks with Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume in a warehouse housing a donation of kits to treat chikungunya, in the Cite Soleil slum, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. The U.S. medical group Direct Relief donated millions of kits to treat the mosquito-borne virus that has sickened tens of thousands across the Caribbean over the past year.

    Haiti gets help for mosquito-borne virus outbreak

    Haiti has received a large shipment of treatment packets to help it deal with an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya amid a rainy season expected to result in a surge of new cases in the country, officials said Wednesday.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category