Health Department to canvass Rio area Saturday in hopes of preventing dengue fever outbreak

Health Department officials and Indian River State College students will go door to door in Rio Saturday to discuss the importance of preventing mosquito-borne illnesses — including dengue fever — as residents are urged to take steps to curtail mosquito breeding and bites.

The efforts come after 24 cases of locally acquired dengue fever in the Rio and Jensen Beach areas have been documented since August.

Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes, as opposed to person to person. Symptoms include severe headache, high fever, pain behind the eyes, rash, and joint, muscle and bone pain.

“The goal is to prevent what happened last summer, prevent an outbreak of dengue fever,” Renay Rouse, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, said Wednesday.

A total of 22 people were identified with dengue in Key West in the summer and fall of 2009, but the following year there were 66 cases of locally acquired dengue fever associated with Key West, according to Health Department information.

“The goal is to get out there, get ahead of it, be proactive and work to make sure that the residents have it top of mind and they know what they need to do to protect themselves,” Rouse said.

From about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, about 10 IRSC epidemiology students and five Health Department staffers hope to visit about 400 homes in the Rio area — where most of the cases occurred last year, Rouse said.

Travelers to areas where dengue is common, such as Brazil and Puerto Rico, can return with the disease, and then it can be transmitted by mosquito to another person.

That’s apparently what happened in a 2011 case in Martin County. Still, such cases here are rare.

Rouse said Health Department officials plan to be at the Jensen Beach Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting May 7 and the Rio Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting May 29 to give presentations.

“When we’re out with the residents this weekend, we’re going to be able to dialogue with them a little bit, but we want to encourage them to also come to the meetings if they have more in-depth questions or if they want to learn more about dengue and the spread,” Rouse said.

Health officials went door to door in September, surveying residents and taking about 360 blood samples. The survey materials are being analyzed in Tallahassee.

While health officials last year said results would be done by March, Rouse said they are not complete. She did not immediately know when results would be available.

Health Department and Martin County Mosquito Control officials suggested residents drain standing water from containers — such as garbage cans, gutters, flower pots and pool covers — to help prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

They also advised people to use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

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