As many as 100 million people are infected by it each year, but we rarely hear about dengue fever in the United States because it mostly occurs in the tropics and subtropics. That was until a recent rash of cases erupted in Florida.
Last week, the Broward County Health Department reported a case of the virus in a 51-year-old woman who had recently visited Key West.
Friday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed 24 cases of residents in the Key West area, and 49 “imported” cases in people traveling to Florida from the Caribbean and South America.
Dengue fever (DENV), which is a mosquito-borne virus, has rarely occurred in the United States before now, and officials are worried these cases could become an outbreak.
"We are concerned that if dengue gains a foothold in Key West, it will travel to other southern cities... like Miami," Harold Margolis, chief of the dengue branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a July press release.
Dr. Andrew Gotlin, medical director of the Ryan Chelsea Clinton Commuminty Health Center in New York City, told FoxNews.com that although forms of dengue infection can be dangerous, it shouldn’t start a panic for Florida residents.
“Dengue fever sounds scary because the word ‘dengue’ has a scary sound to it. For Florida the infection rate is low, and people that do get infected are not getting very sick,” Gotlin said.
Symptoms of DENV include a high fever, severe headache and pain behind the eyes, joint, muscle and bone pain, rash and bleeding of the nose and gums.
When bitten by a mosquito carrying dengue, Gotlin said there can be a few outcomes. The first is nothing happening at all, with the body having no reaction. Another possibility is contracting dengue fever and experiencing symptoms for a matter of days. However, some may have a more severe reaction.
“It could also lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is more serious; resulting in low blood pressure, reparatory problems, the patient needs to be hospitalized and managed. Dengue hemorrhagic fever can be fatal,” Gotlin said. “How sick the person gets with the fever really depends on how healthy the human is, how strong their immune system is. Most don’t get hemorrhagic fever, it is very rare.”
According to the CDC, more than one-third of the world is living in areas at risk for dengue infection and it is a leading cause of death in the tropics and subtropics. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent DENV. The CDC recommends that the best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites, and to seek medical attention early at any signs of the virus.
“In Puerto Rico, only five deaths have been reported since January and the infection rate is 74 cases per 100,000 people, so in Puerto Rico you have a .07 percent chance to get it,” Gotlin said.
To avoid mosquitoes, eliminate places that water is stagnant, like vases and pet water dishes. Experts also recommend keeping screens in your windows at all times to keep the insects from getting into your house.
When outside, the CDC recommends wearing insect repellent with DEET as the main active ingredient.