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Dengue Fever Outbreak in Key West Yields New Clues
Cases of dengue fever are showing up in the Florida Keys, but not in Tucson, Ariz., and exactly why remains a mystery, said researchers, who studied mosquito populations and human behaviors in both areas to shed light on the similarities and differences between them.
The results of their new study have turned up some clues and ruled out others to help explain why Key West had a dengue outbreak, involving 28 cases, between 2009 and 2010, and Tucson did not. The disease is pronounced DENG-gay.
"Key West and Tucson share a lot of risk factors for dengue fever," said study author Kacey Ernst, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Despite Tucson’s desert climate differing from Key West’s wet, tropical conditions, both locations have large populations of the Aedes aegypti strain of mosquito, which can spread the dengue virus to people.
And both cities have a large number of residents who frequently travel to high-risk countries — Tucson residents may head south to Mexico, and people in Key West may escape to the Caribbean — where they can become infected while visiting and introduce the virus into their communities once home. [10 Deadly Diseases That Hopped Across Species]
Although the mosquito-borne illness had largely been eradicated in the U.S. since the 1940s thanks to mosquito-control spraying and prevention programs, dengue has recently reappeared with outbreaks in Florida and Texas.
This disease causes an estimated 100 million infections a year worldwide, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When diagnosed and treated, the disease is not usually fatal, but it can be debilitating, with symptoms ranging from high fever and headache to severe bone and joint pain. The bone and joint pain is so severe that the disease has been called “breakbone fever.”
The preliminary findings were presented today (Nov. 14) at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
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