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Strain of Dengue Fever Virus Pinpointed in Florida

Some 2009-2010 cases originated in Key West mosquitoes, not from travelers, CDC says
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- Some people who fell prey to a 2009-2010 outbreak of dengue fever in Florida carried a particular viral strain that they did not bring into the country from a recent trip abroad, according to a fresh genetic analysis conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To date, most cases of dengue fever on American soil have typically involved travelers who "import" the painful mosquito-borne disease after having been bitten elsewhere. But though the disease cannot move from person to person, mosquitoes are able to pick up dengue from infected patients and, in turn, spread the disease among a local populace.

The CDC's viral fingerprinting of Key West, Fla., dengue patients therefore raises the specter that a disease more commonly found in parts of Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Asia might be gaining traction among North American mosquito populations.

"Florida has the mosquitoes that transmit dengue and the climate to sustain these mosquitoes all year around," cautioned study lead author Jorge Munoz-Jordan. "So, there is potential for the dengue virus to be transmitted locally, and cause dengue outbreaks like the ones we saw in Key West in 2009 and 2010," he said.

"Every year more countries add another one of the dengue virus subtypes to their lists of locally transmitted viruses, and this could be the case with Florida," said Munoz-Jordan, chief of CDC's molecular diagnostics activity in the dengue branch of the division of vector-borne disease.

He and his colleagues report their findings in the April issue of CDC's Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Dengue fever is the most widespread mosquito-borne viral disease in the world, now found in roughly 100 countries, the study authors noted.

That said, until the 2009-2010 southern Florida outbreak, the United States had remained basically dengue-free for more than half a century.

Ultimately, 93 patients in the Key West area alone were diagnosed with the disease during the outbreak, which seemingly ended in 2010, with no new cases reported in 2011.

But the lack of later cases does not give experts much comfort. The reason: 75 percent of infected patients show no symptoms, and the large "house mosquito" population in the region remains a disease-transmitting disaster waiting to happen.

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