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West Nile Virus Reaches Florida

Global Warming Means Dangerous Mosquitoes.

One of the effects of global warming could be the spread of the disease-carrying Asian tiger mosquito, a new study warns. Two researchers at Illinois State University found that the Asian tiger breeds faster in higher temperatures, which means that they could spread farther north and survive year-round in climates where colder winter temperatures now kill them off.

The dreaded insect is currently found in 25 states in the Northeast, Midwest and South. Named for its white-striped legs, the tiger mosquito is a vicious biter that transmits tropical viruses including dengue fever, yellow fever and forms of encephalitis. It arrived in the United States in 1985 in a shipment of used tires brought into Jacksonville. It has also spread to Europe, Africa and South America.

?If global warming trends continue, the Asian tiger mosquito may become common in places it?s not found today,? says Barry Alto, co-author of the study that appeared in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Alto and Steven Juliano of Illinois State University compared reproduction rates for the tiger mosquito at 79, 75 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. They found that the mosquito reproduced the fastest when housed in the highest temperature. Those five degrees are within the range of the estimates of how much the Earth?s temperature will rise over the next century from global warming.

Americans should also expect more outbreaks of the potentially fatal West Nile according to Robert A. Whitney, who served as deputy Surgeon General from 1992 to 1994. ?West Nile will continue to spread through most countries in the Western Hemisphere,? said Whitney, speaking at a forum on communicable diseases sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. ?I think we probably should be prepared to just accept a low level of West Nile virus.?

West Nile virus, which is believed to have originated in Africa, is spread by mosquitoes, which pass it on to humans or other mammals after taking in the blood of infected birds. The virus, which causes inflammation of the brain that can become fatal, cannot be passed between people. There is no known cure. It sickened some 25 people in the Northeast last spring and summer and killed at least 10. Many areas, including New York City, have undertaken aggressive surveillance and pest control measures in an effort to stem future outbreaks.

West Nile virus has recently been found in a dead crow in northern Florida, just east of the state capital, Tallahassee. It was turned in to a state testing facility, which confirmed that it was infected with the virus.

There are no known cases of people in Florida who are infected, but the state plans to launch a virus detection program to make sure, officials said. ?West Nile virus is here. We don't think it poses a major threat,? says Steven Wiersma, deputy chief epidemiologist for the state Department of Health.

Throughout the United States, West Nile Virus has been detected in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Washington D.C. Worldwide, West Nile virus has been found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and west and central Asia.

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