St. Lucie County: health officials go door-to-door to combat chikungunya virus

ST. LUCIE CO., Fla. - With one confirmed case of chikungunya in St. Lucie County, the health department went door to door in the neighborhood to educate residents.

The Florida Department of Health says 115 Florida residents from 26 counties have contracted chikungunya while traveling in the Caribbean, including one case in Indian River County.  Three counties have local spread of the virus, meaning it has been contracted in the area where they live. 

The virus causes severe joint pain, headache and fever.  It's spread by the bites of mosquitoes that thrive in standing water, and the bugs only need a tiny amount of water to breed.  As little as a thimbleful of water is enough to create a setting for larvae to grow. 

The St. Lucie County Health Department visited about 20 homes near Dan McCarty School on Monday.  It is the area where the person lives with the confirmed case of chikungunya.  They knocked on doors to provide information to residents and took blood samples when possible.

Sherry Burroughs, Director of Mosquito Control and Coastal Management Services, says the type of mosquitoes carrying chikungunya breed in your yard in tiny nooks and crannies that have standing water.

"Beach toys to actually garbage cans that maybe have a crack in the lid and haven't been utilized and they've been holding just a bit of water in the bottom.  We dump those.  Bird baths are the prime example," she explained.

Teams of professionals from Mosquito Control have done sweeps in the area north of Dan McCarty School. 

"We surveyed roughly, just over 500 homes and we found the percentage were about 12% of them were breeding," Burroughs said.

It is an insurmountable task to tackle for mosquito experts from the county.  Protection requires participation from every resident. 

To help keep mosquitoes from breeding near your home, regularly empty water from potted plant trays and other containers, like dog dishes and bird baths.  Empty the containers at least once every three days.  Drill holes in garbage and recycling bins so standing water can't gather.  Clean debris from roof gutters and empty water from tarps on equipment, like boats. 

You can use a water hose to flush water gather in bromeliad plants, as they are deep enough to become breeding grounds.  Make sure your swimming pool is in good condition and properly chlorinated.  Burroughs says a small amount of soap or bleach mixed in with water will not kill your plants, but it can be just enough to keep mosquitoes from breeding. 

You should also work to protect yourself from bites by using screens over your windows.  Cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants from dawn to dusk, and use insect repellents containing DEET. 

If you exhibit symptoms of chikungunya or dengue fever, contact your local health department immediately.

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