Public Health systems in Florida once again find themselves scrambling for answers regarding a new viral threat to the state.
“There is nothing so patient, in this world or any other, as a virus searching for a host.” – Mira Grant.
As the majority of Florida is a subtropical climate, that means there’s always going to be standing water. Combined with high humidity and considering that the state is flat (although there are some elevations), it is the perfect environment for pesky pests and life you may not find further north in the United States.
Due to the unique tropical weather in Florida and its high capacity for immigration, it is no stranger to frightening diseases that typically are not a threat to Public Health systems in other places around America. Florida is at high risk for several serious illnesses that aren’t as much of a concern for other states, like Zika Virus, West Nile Virus, and even Leprosy.
Although Florida boasts non-communicable severe health concerns like cancer, infectious disease rates in the state have a strong history, including COVID-19, Yellow Fever, and Spanish Flu. Although residents have learned to live with endemic diseases such as Leprosy, concerns are beginning to heighten as the state’s health officials have noticed an alarming trend regarding a potentially deadly virus. Although the virus in question is self-limiting and carries a mortality rate of less than 1%, it is highly infectious and transmitted by one of Florida’s most prominent and vast forms of wildlife.
Dengue Fever Concerns Public Health Officials in Florida
As Florida has seen 11 cases of locally acquired Dengue Fever this year, two counties, Broward and Miami-Dade, have been placed under a special mosquito-borne illness alert. Both counties have seen five patients who have acquired the disease at home in less than a month, creating concern for Public Health officials. In addition, 204 travel-associated cases of Dengue Fever have been identified.
Dengue Fever is the disease process caused by four Flaviviridae viruses (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4). The virus, which is relatively similar to West Nile, tick-borne encephalitis, and Yellow Fever, is capable of causing severe illnesses such as Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever and Dengue Shock Syndrome.
Like other disease family members, the viral agent that causes Dengue Fever is considered zoonotic and vector-borne, as the disease-causing agent is transmitted through the bite of female A. aegypti and A. albopictus. As Florida has a hot, humid, and wet climate, mosquitos are an everyday occurrence in urban areas, placing the state at increased risk for these types of transmitted diseases despite the fact they are typically endemic to the Pacific Islands, South America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.
Symptoms and Treatment of Florida’s Newest Public Health Concern
Although Dengue Fever does not always cause symptoms, they typically begin after 4-10 days of incubation. Like the flu, Dengue causes headaches, fever, rashes, body aches, and nausea. Symptoms can be mild or extreme depending on the infected person’s behaviors and health history. According to the World Health Organization, Dengue symptoms can last 2-7 days. Although not typically fatal, with a mortality rate of less than 1%, severe Dengue, a lethal complication that may arise after infection, has a profound impact and is cause for concern to Public Health institutions.
Treatments typically vary based on the location of the infected individual. Reported Dengue Fever cases are estimated at around 50-100 million a year. However, many of these people reside in third-world countries that lack adequate health systems capable of managing and treating the disease. In addition, there is no vaccination or special medication response specific to Dengue Fever.
Treatment of the viral infection is limited to ensuring symptoms do not escalate to dangerous levels, very much like the flu. Treatments include rest, fluids, managing nausea, as well as using Paracetamol to bring down fevers and relieve pain in aching joints.
Should Disney World Visitors Be Concerned Over Dengue Fever?
Eleven cases don’t necessarily sound like something of significance. However, considering that Dengue Fever is not endemic to the state of Florida, meaning it doesn’t regularly occur here, concern from Public Health officials is warranted. It is challenging to predict how a population will handle a virus if their immune systems have never been exposed to it.
Another consideration is that Dengue is not transmitted by human contact or aerosol. Instead, it’s contracted by female mosquitos, meaning that infected mosquitos are making their way into the state and infecting others.
What does this mean for guests at Walt Disney World?
The honest answer is nothing yet. The counties in question are a few hours away from Orlando and Walt Disney World, but infected mosquitos can still travel that distance. In fact, there have been cases reported as far as Texas and Arizona this year. Luckily for Disney World Guests, the giant Resort takes threats to Public Health seriously by maintaining a strict cleaning schedule around its parks.
Disney also does a fantastic job of controlling mosquito populations on its property by enlisting the help of their Mosquito Surveillance Program. If there is any concern about Disney World’s capability to handle and monitor potential epidemics and pandemics while maintaining guest safety, one should look no further to their response to COVID-19.
Walt Disney World’s Response to a Global Pandemic
Walt Disney World faced its longest shutdown ever just a few short years ago when COVID-19 rocked the world.
Upon reopening in 2020, Disney World took the necessary precautions needed to ensure guests could return to their parks as safely as possible. Restrictions on crowd levels were put into place, mandatory masks were required, health screenings were conducted prior to entry into the Parks, and social distancing was enforced to provide a safe place for Guests to escape the pressures of a sick world and still try to find the magic that was left.
Although Florida remained one of the highest levels for disease infection in the country, Walt Disney World did everything within its power to reopen as safely as possible, and although it wasn’t what we were used to, it worked.
Disney learned a lot during the COVID years, but many practices were already in place to ensure that Guests would remain disease-free while in the parks. As Walt Disney World sees millions of guests worldwide each year, the concern and risk for viral infection are high. However, where they can, Disney World does a great job of being proactive against disease-causing agents like mosquitos. In fact, although it may look like you’ll very rarely find standing water on the property at Walt Disney World. Most water at Disney World is flowing. This is by design, as mosquitos lay their eggs in small pools of water left out in the sun.
Disney also employs an exceptional team of healthcare clinicians who can meet sick guests’ needs until they can be transported to appropriate care facilities.
Although a relatively new concern to the State of Florida’s Public Health system, Dengue Fever has been a global concern for a long time. Dengue strands do not promote immunity to other strands of the disease-causing agent, and some research suggests that there may be a fifth version of the virus.
This means that a person can become infected with different strands of Dengue fever several different times, likely resulting in a more severe reaction to the disease, including potential death. Although there have only been 513 total cases in the United States this year, the disease is more widespread in urban and suburban populations. One outbreak in Peru this year resulted in around 400 total deaths, according to the National Center for Epidemiology, Prevention and Control of Diseases. This means that the disease should be taken seriously by guests, residents, and Public Health officials in Florida, despite its low mortality rate.
If you are concerned about Dengue Fever or any other disease, please consult with your local physician prior to traveling.