Tuesday evening, over a dozen community members showed up at the Harvey Government Center to learn what they could do to break the cycle of Dengue Fever.
Dengue is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that breeds and stays close to homes and businesses. One in five homes in Key West are growing the aegypti. They have striped bodies and have adapted to surviving in artificial containers with water. They don’t fly far and do not breed or survive in the mangroves. Last year, there were 65 confirmed cases, and health officials believe the disease can be eradicated on our two-by-four mile island; it starts by emptying standing water.
“I came here to see what role we can play. We can put the information on our website, place flyers in the branches and help educate the public.” Doria Goodrich is executive vice president of personal banking for First State Bank. She was amongst a dozen community leaders and mosquito control officials taking in the facts about Dengue and how the disease can be eradicated from Key West.
“I used to chase the mosquito control trucks when I was little. I grew up here. I live here. We can all come together and make sure these mosquitoes aren’t reproducing,” she shared with those around her.
According to administrator Bob Eadie, we had to have the perfect storm to be growing dengue here. A resident or tourist arrived on the island infected from another region. A mosquito bit that person and lived long enough to bite and infect someone else.
“All of those things had to come together so we have a locally acquired infection. Key West has a population of 20,000 to 25,000 people living on the island. Every continent has either been visited or someone living here has lived there. This is very unique and conducive to the spread of disease,” relayed Eadie.
The island lifestyle means walking the streets all day and night, often with our calves and ankles exposed thereby increasing our chances of being bitten. The onset of symptoms happens in just days and is described as a “terrible pain.” Symptoms are high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, body aches, joint pain, rash, nausea and vomiting. Anyone infected can experience all of these symptoms or none at all. Unlike the flu, a person with Dengue will not experience respiratory infection. There isn’t an antidote or vaccine. Infected persons are told to consult a doctor, rest and take acetaminophen. A person can have the disease and not even know it.
“If you don’t have the mosquito, the disease will die out. If you can get [the number of] mosquitoes reduced, then the disease itself will die out,” noted the county’s medical director, Mark Witeside.
Efforts start by eliminating standing water in any open container which may collect rainwater like empty plant pots, tires, recycle bins, garbage totes, buckets, boats and canvas covers.
“If you can pass on to your neighbors and each of you take care of his or her property the breeding cycle can can’t sustain itself. This is why we are here. Not to scare you, but to educate and think differently and make sure we enjoy Key West by knowing what’s going on,” said Eadie.
Members of the lodging industry were also in attendance to learn what they should tell guests. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez said to offer southern hospitality and set out repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin.
“Just say, ‘You’re our guests, and this is something that we have,’ and offer the repellent. Not because Dengue is a crisis but because it’s unpleasant to get bitten by mosquitoes. It takes a minimal amount of effort,” Zielinski-Gutierrez offered to people like Jody Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West. Weinhofer can relay the information to hotel managers, innkeepers and bed and breakfast owners. Emptying standing water on the property and checking for screens with holes will soon be on guestroom checklists.
Of the infected cases in Key West, one dozen were hospitalized. All have recovered.
“We’re trying to elicit as much public support as we can,” reiterated Eadie. “The government has done about all they can do and we’re going to have to demand everyone help eradicate the disease by eliminating breeding sites. You can tell potential visitors our island is safe, and the director of the health department has his grandchildren down here as often as he can get them down here!” &
The greatest challenge facing the eradication of breeding sites are the high percentage of unoccupied transient residences. The legalities of cleaning up foreclosure property will be discussed, and the health department is likely targeting Earth Day, April 22, as the first Keys-wide sweep to eradicate the aegypti mosquito.