Across South Florida, afternoon rainstorms are sprouting over the Everglades and moving inland to drench backyards, where swarms of mosquitos will soon hatch in pools of tepid standing water. It's summertime in Florida, in other words. Except this year, there's an increasingly good chance those mosquitoes will soon be infected with two gruesome ailments spreading through the Caribbean.
More than two dozen cases of dengue fever and chikungunya have already been reported in the Sunshine State. And though those incidents were probably contracted abroad, experts say it's only a matter of time before Florida's patient zero accidentally spreads the bugs to our own skeeter population, who will then bring it to you.
The Florida Department of Health's latest update released this week confirms that 24 people have now been diagnosed with dengue fever; 18 patients have been confirmed with chikungunya.
All probably got the disease while traveling, but that's not going to last forever. "The threat is greater than I've seen in my lifetime," Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory, tells Reuters. "Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat."
So what the hell is chikungunya?
Well, let's start with the good news. It probably won't kill you. Even though it's been linked to 14 deaths around the Caribbean, the bug generally leads to death only in people suffering other ailments.
The bad news is that you'll feel like this:
Alrightythen! Chikungunya, which is endemic to Africa but first spread to the Caribbean in 2004, causes high fevers, joint swelling, muscle pain and body-wide rashes.
Take it from a worker at GOALS Haiti, a soccer-promoting nonprofit on the island, who live-tweeted her own bout with the illness. It did not look fun:
The disease is ravaging the Caribbean and has moved into Central and South America this month. More than 100,000 cases have already been confirmed.
As for dengue, Floridians are already familiar with that earlier Caribbean stowaway; the disease hit Key West in 2009 and 2010 and infected a few dozen people in Jenson Beach last year. Like chikungunya, it's rarely fatal but can lead to lasting symptoms.
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So how to avoid contracting chikungunya? Simple! Don't get bitten by a mosquito. That's easy enough in Florida in the summer, right?
Really though, Florida officials are urging residents to drain standing water and spray for mosquitos. "We encourage all Floridians to practice the drain and cover method to minimize mosquito exposure," Dr. Carina Blackmore, Florida's Deputy State Epidemiologist, says in a release from the department.