Upper Florida Keys experiencing breakout of dengue fever amid coronavirus pandemic

(WSVN) - South Florida is struggling through the coronavirus, but there’s a second public health crisis here you may not know about. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek takes us to the Keys in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

It’s a tiny mosquito, but a disease it carries can cause immeasurable pain.

Jennifer Jones, dengue fever survivor: “I’ve given birth to three children, and this is one of the absolute worst things I have ever experienced.”

Kevin Ozebek: “Is this hell on Earth?”

Jennifer Jones: “It is hell on Earth.”

On the morning of July 4, Jennifer Jones started cleaning her Tavernier home.

Jennifer Jones: “I was dusting. I got light headed, thought maybe I stirred up too much dust. Twenty minutes later, I couldn’t walk.”

Over the next few days, a rash developed, and Jennifer had crippling headaches and joint pain.

Jennifer Jones: “What it felt like was, I was instantly a 99-year-old woman who just got hit by a truck. It literally feels like your eyeballs are being ripped from your head.”

Leonardo Bello of Key Largo experienced similar symptoms.

Leonardo Bello, dengue fever survivor: “I felt like an old man in my 90s that fell and struggled to get up.”

Kevin Ozebek: “At first, what did you think was happening to you?”

Leonardo Bello: “I thought I had COVID.”

After the pain became excruciating, he went to the emergency room.

Leonardo Bello: “I got to the point where I could barely walk. Your feet start peeling, like skin falling off.”

Both Leonardo and Jennifer ended up testing positive for dengue fever.

Here in the Upper Keys, homeowners have been told to be on alert.

So far, there have been 26 confirmed cases of dengue as Monroe County sees its first outbreak in 10 years.

Chad Huff, Monroe County Mosquito Control: “If you had an army to send into battle, our inspectors are our frontline.”

Mosquito control inspectors are now going door-to-door between mile markers 98 and 106.

They’re looking for larvae of aedes aegypti.

This invasive mosquito with a trademark black and white pattern can spread a host of diseases — dengue being just one of them.

Chad Huff: “It’s a mess of a mosquito, so it is certainly one we’d rather not have out there.”

Standing water attracts mosquitoes, so residents are being warned not to let water collect in things like pots, fountains and bromeliads.

Dr. Mark Whiteside, Florida Department of Health: “The COVID thing has really complicated this. That has been on everybody’s mind, and dengue has been off the radar screen.”

Dr. Mark Whiteside with the Florida Department of Health says the last dengue outbreak a decade ago lasted roughly seven months, so the case count will likely still climb. In May, there was one case of dengue reported in Miami-Dade County, but Whiteside says that case was unrelated to the outbreak in the Keys.

Kevin Ozebek: “Do you think this is going to spread down into the Lower Keys potentially and further north into Miami-Dade County?”

Dr. Mark Whiteside: “I am hoping and expecting that it would remain confined mainly in the Key Largo area, but as they say, ‘Never say never.'”

So, from Key West to northern Broward County, we’re all being urged to walk through our properties and empty anything holding standing water. Just one ounce of water is all aedes aegypti needs to lay hundreds of eggs.

Leonardo Bello: “It attacked my liver, and my white blood count was tanking.”

Because, take it from these two, dengue fever is the last thing you want.

Jennifer Jones: “This is a very, very nasty disease.”

Jennifer’s teenage son Josh also started showing symptoms with this head-to-toe rash. He just tested positive.

Jennifer Jones: “This is a seven-and-a-half square mile neighborhood back here full of kids, and I’m watching a 16-year-old just suffering. It would kill me if little 3 and 4-year-old kids were out there getting it.”

So, it’s in all of our interest to take the bite out of this mosquito.


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