With the news that ten additional cases of Zika have been discovered in Miami, it is likely that people who live in mosquito-prone areas are beginning to feel worried. But how worried should they be? Today’s blog will feature a brief list of mosquito-borne illnesses in Florida, how they were eradicated (if they were), and how you can make your home safer.
Yellow fever is prevented with a vaccine today and is associated only with the poorest subtropical and tropical countries. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it felled rich and poor alike. Travel was restricted in Florida, both in state and from out of state, during the 1888 outbreak. Poor families were impoverished further when their possessions were burned to prevent the spread of disease, although we now know this would have had no effect on the spread of yellow fever. What finally stopped the outbreak was a cold snap in November of that year. Luckily, no major outbreaks occurred in Florida after this, and a vaccine was invented in 1932.
For decades, dengue fever was viewed as a relic of the past as well. The last case known to be acquired in Florida occurred in 1934. This changed in the summer and fall of 2009, when 22 people became ill with dengue in Key West. There are numerous unpleasant symptoms such as photophobia, joint pain, spikes in temperature, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Rarely, the more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever will develop, leading to death if it is not recognized and managed. There is currently no vaccine. Only one case of locally acquired dengue has occurred in 2016.
St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV), so named because it was discovered in St. Louis, Missouri in 1933, has caused outbreaks in Florida since 1959. The disease spreads as birds are bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus, after which they spend the next 1-2 days producing significant quantities of the virus in their blood. The bird is fed upon by other mosquitoes, after which there is a chance that the virus could be spread to humans. Substantial numbers of people have had the virus, but only rarely do they require medical attention. There have been no cases since 2014, when only two people were reported to have the virus. In 2016, one sentinel chicken has been diagnosed with SLEV.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) was first discovered in horses in Massachusetts in 1831. The first human cases were reported in 1938 and like SLEV, is transmitted through mosquitoes infecting and being infected by birds. In humans, symptoms include photophobia, severe headaches and muscle pains, vomiting, seizures, and focal neurological deficits. Only about four percent of humans known to be affected develop symptoms. There is currently no vaccine for humans, although one exists for horses. There are typically one or two human cases in Florida each year. None have been reported in 2016, although there have been several animals that have tested positive.
In 2001, West Nile Virus (WNV) reached Florida for the first time. The disease affects birds, who are then fed on by mosquitoes who spread the virus to humans. Florida experienced major outbreaks in 2003 and 2012, possibly because higher-than-normal temperatures led to increased mosquito and bird populations. Only about 1 in 150 people develop severe symptoms. A milder form of the illness can give the sufferer headaches, body aches, nausea, and fever, and can last for several weeks. There is no cure, but I successfully recovered from my mild case after about three months. Eighty percent of those affected never experience symptoms at all. Because of this, the disease may be under reported in humans. Arbovirus surveillance has shown that the disease has been present in animal populations in 2016.
In 2014 and 2015, at least 11 people were infected with chikungunya in the Miami metro area. The disease was first noticed in Asia and Africa in 2013 before spreading all over the globe. As of July 23, no cases of the disease have been acquired in Florida in 2016.
So what can people do to protect themselves? Using repellents that contain DEET or picaridin and covering as much skin as possible will protect your body. Citronella oil is often marketed as a natural alternative, but a literature review found that it wasn’t as effective or as long-lasting as DEET.
If you have a yard (or space for a container garden), growing pest-repellent plants is an effective way to prevent bites. Catnip, a member of the mint family, as found to be ten times as effective as DEET in an Iowa State University study. Other aromatic plants like lavender, citronella grass, rosemary, basil, and strongly scented geraniums are less effective, but are still unpleasant to mosquitoes.
Finally, practicing good household maintenance can keep mosquitoes from finding your home attractive. Fill in low-lying areas of your yard, change water in birdbaths daily, fix leaky outdoor taps, and replace any holes in your screens (or use clear packing tape to cover). Change water indoors frequently as well, if you have standing water in planters.
And now for the cozy things I liked today:
Cooking video of the day: Charred Cauliflower
Comedy video of the day: 3AM (The Simpsons)
Interior of the day:
I am in love with that lavender fridge! There isn’t enough purple in the kitchen. Found here.