Photo: Bernard Brzezinski/UF
"We're basically the equivalent of a tropical country sitting here in the Unites States," says Glenn Morris.
The bug buzz: Florida is fertile ground for viruses that may piggyback on tourists
The number of Americans infected by diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas more than tripled over the past decade or so, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, jumping from an estimated 27,000 cases in 2004 to an estimated 96,000 in 2016.
That’s especially concerning for Florida, says Dr. J. Glenn Morris, director of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, which works to prevent or contain new and re-emerging diseases.
Morris spoke with Florida Trend.
Breeding ground: “We’re dealing with something that’s nationwide, but a lot of the action really is in Florida. We’re basically the equivalent of a tropical country sitting here in the United States. Consequently, we and the people who live here in Florida are exposed to illnesses that in general one would not see in Minnesota or other parts of the United States that tend to get really cold.”
Transmission: “The obvious example is Zika, which came in 2016. We are seeing a significant dropoff in terms of the number of Zika cases worldwide — although what’s interesting is we’re continuing to see occasional introductions of Zika into Florida.
We’re not talking about an epidemic anymore, but there’s a low level, and there are occasional people coming into Florida who are carrying the virus and who could serve as a nidus for dissemination of the virus again.
What the data from 2016 show is there were probably multiple introductions of Zika into South Florida. And there was sort of a little ring of transmission around an introduced case and then it died off. But there still is that possibility.”
Lingering effects: “The thing of concern is that it’s not just Zika. The reality is ongoing diseases like that get introduced here into Florida. Back in 2014, it was chikungunya — it got essentially no press because that was at the same time that Ebola was doing its thing over in Texas. Then if you remember earlier there were dengue outbreaks in Key West, in South Florida.
What we see on all these viruses is that there continue to be low levels of transmission.
What’s concerning is that what we’ve seen is a series of different viruses: Dengue, chikungunya, Zika — in the studies we’re doing in Haiti we’re identifying other viruses that might decide to show up in Florida. Like there’s one called mayaro that we’re finding there that might be the next Zika.”
Vigilance: “Keep in mind we’ve got, what is it, 100 million tourists who come into the state each year? And that’s wonderful for the economy. But you know some of those folks bring along other things, like viruses they may be incubating. So we’re probably in a situation where there are going to be continued introductions of new and unusual viruses.”
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