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First Locally Contracted Case Of Dengue Fever Confirmed In Hillsborough County

Aedis aegypti mosquito feeding, only carrier of Dengue fever
The carrier of Dengue fever, Aedis aegypti, is the only mosquito that can transmit the virus from one person to another. FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

Public health officials confirmed the 18th case of dengue fever in Hillsborough County this year.

But this case is different- while the first 17 were travelers who got sick when they returned from a trip, this one contracted the fever from a mosquito locally.

The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in Hillsborough County is encouraging residents to take extra precautions in light of these heightened concerns.

The mosquito-borne virus can cause fever, body aches, headaches, and nausea. There are four different strains and, while people can’t get the same strain twice, symptoms become more severe with each strain a patient acquires.

“Dengue is only tested through blood, so it would be difficult for the health department to go door to door and offer testing,” said Ashlee Freemon, an FDOH epidemiologist. “What we do at the health department is try to educate the person who is infected so that they don't get bitten by mosquitoes and then the same mosquitoes go and bite their neighbors.”

According to the FDOH, the carrier of Dengue, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, does not gravitate towards natural habitats, preferring to lay its eggs in standing water such as backed-up storm drains and garbage cans.

RJ Montgomery, Director of Hillsborough County Mosquito Management, said measures have already been taken to control the mosquito population and educate the neighbors within a 200 yard radius around the case’s location.

“After the first three days, we had made four applications (one larvae and three adult treatments) and that's just standard procedure for a confirmed case of Dengue,” he said. “The following day, we sent a team in on the ground to knock on doors to look for mosquito breeding containers and to educate the public that they can eliminate these habitats.”

According to a Florida statute, health officials are not required to reveal the original location of the virus. Visits from mosquito control and informational door hangers are the only ways to know if the virus is affecting a specific neighborhood.

Kevin Watler, FDOH’s Public Information Officer, said the origin is irrelevant because “the potential for additional infections is not limited to one area.”

“With higher risk of becoming infected during travel, it is more likely someone in any area of the county could return from travel infected with the virus,” he said. “A person who has Dengue fever may be bitten from an Aedes aegypti mosquito anywhere in the county and give the mosquito the virus.”  

Three out of four people infected do not show symptoms, so health officials say the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through the “Drain and Cover” method.

Graphic of the 'Drain and Cover' method.
The Florida Department of Health is encouraging residents to use the 'Drain and Cover' method, draining water in outdoor containers and covering skin with clothing or repellent. FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.