Dengue Fever Hits Key West

Officials confirm cases of the tropical disease carried by mosquitos.

ByABC News
May 20, 2010, 4:53 PM

May 20, 2010— -- More than two dozen cases of locally-acquired dengue fever have hit the resort town of Key West, Fla., in the past nine months, officials from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Although not the first cases of home-grown dengue in the U.S., or even in Florida, the outbreak highlights the need for physician vigilance regarding this and other formerly exotic tropical diseases, the CDC said in the May 21 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"The re-emergence of dengue in Florida as well as the threat posed to the U.S. from other emerging mosquito-borne arboviruses (e.g., chikungunya) emphasizes the necessity for strong vector-borne surveillance and mosquito control infrastructure to rapidly identify and control outbreaks of dengue or other mosquito-borne diseases," MMWR's editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report.

Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted by mosquito bites. It can be debilitating, but is not usually fatal in otherwise healthy people.

It is endemic in the Western Hemisphere from Mexico southward. Most cases seen by U.S. physicians have involved travelers to such regions.

Over the past 30 years, a few cases of locally-acquired dengue have been confirmed along the Texas-Mexico border, according to the report, authored by CDC researchers, public health officials in Florida, and physicians who treated the first cases in the new Key West outbreak.

Dengue was also known in Florida in the 1930s, but no locally-acquired cases had been confirmed since then, until last August.

The first case was actually identified in Rochester, N.Y., involving a 34-year-old woman who had just returned from a week-long visit to Key West.

The day after arriving back in Rochester, she went to her doctor complaining of fever, headache, malaise, and chills. Lab analysis showed bacteria and blood in her urine.

Not surprisingly, her primary care physician and a local emergency department did not initially suspect dengue. The presumptive diagnosis was a urinary tract infection and she was treated accordingly.