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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To try and get a handle on just how serious that risk might be, the CDC team looked at blood samples from 16 of Florida's 67 counties, collected from dengue patients by the Florida Department of Health.
Rigorous genetic testing revealed what researchers feared: the identification of a local Key West strain among dengue patients who had not recently traveled outside the United States.
The team was able to trace the new Key West strain back to its original imported source: a Central American viral strain initially brought into Florida by patients infected in that region. But they stressed that as the local mosquito population acquired the virus from this first round of patients, it developed into a distinct strain of its own. In turn, the new strain was passed on to local residents who had not recently visited Central America.
The upshot: In some cases the dengue fever "smoking gun" was the local Florida mosquito population, rather than mosquitoes from other regions.
"(But) the Key West virus strain did not resemble those found elsewhere in Florida," said Carina Blackmore, chief of the Florida Department of Health's bureau of environmental public health medicine in Tallahassee. This, she said, implies that while patients in the Key West region had indeed contracted dengue from local mosquito carriers, patients in other parts of the state got sick through more typical means: travel abroad.
In terms of what to do about locally driven disease risk, Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical associate professor of medicine in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said that the question is how best to deal with a Florida landscape that is a "notorious breeding center" for mosquitoes.
"Mosquitoes don't really ride on planes," he noted. "The issue here is that the mosquito population is growing in the swamp areas there. This is all about these breeding grounds, which help the disease get a footing in the local area," Siegel said.
"But then the question is, how do you handle an environment that gives rise to this kind of disease spread?" added Siegel, who is the author of numerous books on infectious diseases and contagions. "It's a difficult problem that will require going step by step. Spraying is one route, but it's not always the answer. It may, in fact, become an issue of getting rid of the breeding areas themselves altogether."