Imagine, if you will, a map of Florida with a tiny dot for each and every person living in the state. That's a lot of dots. If you were to shift back in time, those dots would be less dense in cities and more spread out in rural areas. If you were to move forward to the future, you would see those dots make urban areas almost a solid mass and rural areas more densely speckled. With this image in your mind, imagine how much easier it is for mosquitoes--which don't typically travel more than 300 yards in their lifetime--to spread dangerous viruses from one person to the next.
In 2009 and 2010 Key West saw an outbreak of the dengue virus where 28 people were infected and hospitalized. In 2013, a small neighborhood in Jensen Beach saw 24 people infected by this virus. And, state health officials believe that a much larger epidemic is looming. Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach, who has worked in the field of entomology for 30 years warns, "The threat is greater than I've seen in my lifetime."
Dengue is a potentially fatal disease that produces flu-like symptoms that can cause serious and lingering symptoms. Health officials in the Dominican Republic report over 53,000 suspected cases each year, with hard-hit areas treating over 100 new patients each day. The Caribbean Public Health Agency reports that health professionals are treating more than 100,000 confirmed or suspected cases of chikungunya each year.
With cases of dengue fever and chikungunya on the rise in Florida, the Department of Health is concerned that these two diseases, which are spread by mosquito bites, could cause an outbreak across the state. Tabachnick agrees, "Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat."
Leading health officials in Florida advise residents to take steps to control mosquito populations and limit the threat. These include:
Removing sources of standing water in yards.
Removing clutter that allows water to pool.
Keep grass cut low.
Get treatments from a pest control company.
These mosquito-borne viruses wreak havoc in other countries, but they don't have to be a threat in Florida. With proper mosquito abatement there are fewer mosquitoes to make the link from one person to the next and one dot to the next. Every 300 yards has the potential to break the chain of an outbreak. Are you protecting your 300 yards?