The current dengue outbreak in the Upper Keys isn’t over, as the Florida Department of Health confirmed four new cases on Aug. 3. 

The number of those who’ve come down with dengue fever has been on an uptick since mid-June, when a mosquito-borne illness advisory went into effect after a case of dengue was reported to the health department on June 19. It was only the second reported case in the Keys at that time. 

With the four new cases, the total confirmed number has grown to 26. 

As health officials continue to assess the outbreak, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District continues its intense mosquito control activities from Key Largo to Tavernier. The spraying continues while staff goes door-to-door to check for standing water — a prime breeding spot for mosquitoes that carry the disease. 

“FKMCD is still extremely busy executing its disease response plan, which includes activity centered around source reduction, aerial mosquito treatments, ground mosquito treatments and mosquito surveillance,” said Chad Huff, the district’s public information officer. “On the ground, truck missions to kill adult mosquitoes in the target area are being conducted as necessary. The location of these spray missions are dictated by observations made by mosquito surveillance. FKMCD aerial crews are flying numerous missions via helicopter over Key Largo as needed to apply both larvicide and adulticide products.”

Health officials say the four latest cases were locally acquired. The individuals received medical treatment and are expected to make a full recovery, as are the other 22.

Dengue fever is not contagious; it is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of dengue appear within 14 days of a bite by an infected mosquito. Dengue can present as a severe flu-like illness with severe muscle aches and pain, fever and sometimes a rash. Usually, there are no respiratory symptoms.

Tom Bartlett lives in the Key Largo area. He and his family recently went through the dengue fever experience. CONTRIBUTED

The Keys Weekly spoke with Upper Keys resident Tom Bartlett on his recent experience with dengue. Bartlett lives just north of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, between MM 102.5 and 103, with his wife, Sarah, and newborn. Bartlett said it was mid-June when people he knew started to get sick. Bartlett said the number of people he’d normally see out walking quickly subsided as they were inside, feeling unwell. 

“No one knew it was dengue at that point in time,” he said. “Was it COVID or was it something else? There were some ladies in the neighborhood who were doing some research. Looking at symptoms, it kind of started to allude to maybe dengue.”

When did you know that it was indeed dengue and not some other illness? It wasn’t until later in June that there started to be confirmation, and people went and got a blood test. At that point it wasn’t like it was being reported. It was more word of mouth in that South Creek Village (located near MM 103, oceanside). Luckily, that neighborhood is well connected as far as communication goes. 

Did you get sick? Did any of your family come down with it? I actually got it on the tail end when everyone was getting sick in mid-June. My girlfriend, Sarah, who just had the baby, she had it. It’s not confirmed, but everything I went through, she did. She had the fever. She had muscle aches. She was out for a week, but she was still taking care of the baby. We were trying to really nail down what happens with the baby now …  is the baby OK? I was one of the last few to pick up dengue. It was easy dealing with it for me because I kind of had an idea what was going on when other people didn’t.

What was the experience like? Did it put you down for a period of time? The experience was similar for Sarah and me. I developed a fever on July 5. It was a mild fever of 99.5 to 100. I had no energy. When I say that, every day I get out and ride my bike and go for a run. That day, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t feel like doing anything.’ That’s when I realized, OK, let me take my temperature and see what’s going on. For the next two days, I developed a 101-102 fever and muscle aches. But it was manageable. You can manage it with Tylenol. It felt like you had a mild flu. By day three and four, I was in bed. My body hurt from head to toe. 

Did you have to go to the doctor? Did the health department reach out to you? They did. That Monday, July 6, I went and got COVID-tested and tested for dengue. At that point, the health department called days later to do a questionnaire on where I’d been, what my activities were, my age and stuff like that. Then, I actually emailed Dr. Mark Whiteside (medical director of the health department). He actually called me to ask questions about my experience and what was going on. He’s been in the neighborhood multiple times. He’s kind of advising people through this and questioning to find out where it came from. People at the health department in Tallahassee have even called to interview us.

Have you seen mosquito control out and about? Yes, they’ve done a good job in my opinion. They’ve gone door-to-door. They’ve sprayed in our backyard multiple times. When all this was going on, they were basically coming through the neighborhood like a SWAT team.

How would you describe this whole experience of not only having to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also this dengue outbreak with a young one as well? It was Sarah and I putting our minds together and really every two hours doing an assessment on where we were and what we thought we needed to do, like if we needed to get more medical attention or something. Because we weren’t exactly experienced with COVID. We were constantly checking the baby and checking each other. That’s really what it was. It was kind of sitting on edge to see what popped up next and making a decision. Luckily, it never got out of control or got too dramatic. 

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