Dengue fever hits the USA (as seen in “Fevered”)

A few days back I pointed out that Linda Marsa in her new global warming book Fevered dug up a central fact about the Dust Bowl that few others had noticed — that it only took one degree of warming to set that disaster in motion. This concern was echoed in a report on National Public Radio that focused on another reason to fear the reoccurence of a new dust bowl. 

Today let me mention another projection in Fevered, which is that dengue fever has landed again in the United States, thanks in part to mosquitoes empowered by climate change.

NPR echoed this concern in a report on All Things Considered too, on Friday. 

To wit:

Public health officials in Florida are once again scrambling to contain an outbreak of dengue fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

Until 2009, when it surfaced in Key West, the tropical disease hadn't been seen in Florida in more than 70 years.

Now there are concerns dengue may establish a foothold in the state.

Wrote Marsa, in chapter one of Fevered:

Over the last half-century, as the planet has experienced a warming trend, dengue has spread into more temperate areas. In that time its incidence has spiked 30-fold, according to the World Health Organization, and it now causes an estimated 100 million infections annually in more than 100 countries, especially in densely populated and developing megacities in the tropical belt, where a high percentage of the population lives in urban shantytowns. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue is a sociable urbanite that feasts mainly on humans…because of the speed of its sprad and the overwhelming budens of illness and death it causes, the WHO considers dengue the world's most serious insect-transmitted viral disease. But many doctors are unfamiliar with the symptoms and fail to make an accurate diagnosis. As a consequence, the CDC believes many cases are never counted, making these figures estimates of its prevalence. 

In Florida this past summer, said the ATC story:

It's not unusual for travelers to the Caribbean, Africa or Latin America to return home with a case of dengue acquired overseas. But in Stuart, dengue spread to the local mosquito population, says Dr. Aileen Chang, an expert on dengue fever at the University of Miami Health System.

And those mosquitoes have infected others with the disease. It's an outbreak similar to one seen in Key West in 2009 and 2010.

Only about a quarter of those infected with dengue become sick enough to see a doctor. So far, health officials haven't been able to identify the person who brought dengue to the area.

In Stuart — and everywhere there's a dengue outbreak — officials find themselves in a race against the disease. They have to work to educate the public and control the mosquito population before it spreads more.

Dr. Chang has been advising health authorities in Stuart, and judging from the numbers of cases coming in, she believes this particular outbreak may have peaked. But it's not likely to be the last, she says.

"The temperature and weather patterns are changing. We're seeing more dengue throughout the entire world," she says. "So now, having it creep up to Florida, the most southern part of the U.S., is not that surprising."

Note that the National Public Radio report didn't breath a word of dengue's rare but deadly sibling, dengue hemorrhagic fever. Appropriate because no one, evidently, has contracted that strain in Florida. Marsa in Fevered points out that that the mortal disease has been documented in Brownsville, Texas, in 2005 and, she suggests, will show up soon enough wherever dengue fever is found. 

I wonder about California, given dengue fever's prevalence in Mexico…


[map from Florida Bureau of Environmental Public Health Medicine]

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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