By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Florida's rainy season has arrived, and with it comes a greater chance of innocuous backyard objects turning into a breeding habitat for disease-carrying mosquitos.
The Indian River County Mosquito Control District is equipped to manage the mosquito population on a large scale, but sometimes it's the small scale breeding areas in places like water-logged tarps, roof gutters and bromeliads that virus-carrying mosquitos chose to build their families.
Mosquito-borne disease professionals in Florida have been monitoring outbreaks of two particular viruses carried by mosquitos, Chikungunya and Dengue, in other countries for some time, said Professor Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, in a press release.
This year, Dengue has caused outbreaks in South and Central America and more than 40,000 cases of Chikungunya have been reported in the Caribbean. Because of proximity and vacationers, Florida is already seeing imported Chickungunya cases acquired in the Caribbean region, Professor Tabachnick said.
There are two mosquitos in particular that carrying these two viruses, the Yellow Fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, both of which have a presence in Indian River County and in Florida, said Roxanne Connelly, medical entomology specialist with the Florida Medical Entomology Lab.
There have been zero cases of either virus reported in Florida as originating from Florida mosquitos, but it is just a matter of time before it happens, experts said.
Both disease-carrying mosquitos tend to prefer create larval habitats within or near human environments, often biting indoors or in sheltered areas near houses.
Earlier this month, mosquito-borne disease professionals, members of mosquito control districts, and Department of Health administrators gathered at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce to develop plans to control Florida's mosquitoes that can transmit dengue and Chikungunya and to educate the public on how to prepare and defend against the mosquitos, Professor Connelly said.
"Our health system has come to realize it's only a matter of time before the mosquitos transmit the disease over here and we need to know how to address it. We need to know what resources we have and what we can do to prepare," Professor Connelly said.
"One of the first questions we get asked is if Chickungunya affects chickens, but that is not the case," she said.
"Chickungunya" is both a virus and the resulting illness from the virus and it is transmitted to humans by mosquitos. The original language of the word is Makonde, and the disease was named after an outbreak in a Swahili village between Tanzania and Mozambique, Africa in the early 1950s, a report said.
The word translates to mean "illness of the bended walker" or "bent over walking" because the virus affects the joints similar to severe arthritis pain, Professor Connelly said.
Other symptoms of the virus include rash and fever. As the disease is a virus, no amount of antibiotics will help a patient and there is no specific "cure," so doctors will have to treat the symptoms instead of the cause until the virus runs its course, she said.
Dengue is similar, and the word itself is a Spanish attempt at the Swahili phrase "ki denga pepo" which describes a cramp-like seizure, a report said.
Adult mosquitos carrying Dengue, which comes in four variations, are primarily day-biters, but may bite early in the night.
The mosquitos, carrying either Chickungunya or Dengue, often lay their eggs in water-holding containers found in residential neighborhoods, but "containers" is a very broad term, Professor Connelly said.
"It can be a pet dish, saucers underneath your plant containers, cans, bottle caps, old tires, stopped up gutters, just about anything that holds water can have mosquitos in them," she said.
Wearing mosquito repellant is another good defense against the mosquitos, Professor Connelly said.
Last year, Martin County experienced several cases of Dengue but none have been reported yet this year, Ms. Connelly said.
The only reported cases of Chickungunya in Florida have been from people who have traveled to places in the Caribbean and brought it back with them. There is a potential danger that the infected Floridians could be bit by local mosquitos, thereby transmitting the disease back to mosquitos and causing a spread that way, so health officials are being extremely careful, Professor Connelly said.
"People need to be aware if they are traveling this summer," she said.
A document with suggestions and recommendations for health officials on the potential outbreak is being prepared and will be released later this summer.
The University of Florida has provided fact sheets on chikungunya in English (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in696) and Spanish (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in729), on dengue in English (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in699) and Spanish (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in719) and about the mosquitoes that transmit the pathogens that cause these debilitating diseases, Aedes albopictus (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in594) and Aedes aegypti (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in792).