Florida residents have to watch out for mosquitoes, since they carry the West Nile Virus. Now it turns out that alligators carry it too. Researchers have found that the levels of West Nile in alligators is 4 times as high as in birds, and they can pass it on to humans via mosquitoes. And the Centers for Disease Control say that West Nile is spreading much faster this season than they expected.

Since most people stay away from alligators, you wouldn’t think there would be much danger of catching West Nile from one of them, but alas, that’s not the case. Virus-carrying mosquitoes initially infect them with West Nile, and when other, uninfected bugs bite them afterwards, the alligators pass the virus back to the bugs. This means the mosquitoes will in turn infect the next bird, alligator?or human?they bite. Mosquitoes can’t become infected from biting an infected person, since we don’t build up enough virus in our bodies.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says this year’s number of West Nile cases will probably break last year’s record. She says, “The numbers are starting to change very, very quickly. That is very concerning.” So far Colorado has been the hardest-hit state, with 4 out of 7 recent deaths in the U.S. This could be due to a wet June and a hot July, which is the perfect breeding weather for mosquitoes.

About 300 captive alligators died from West Nile in Florida last year. Necropsies showed they had enough West Nile in their bodies to have infected plenty of mosquitoes. Although birds often die within hours of getting the virus, alligators live with it for days or weeks, so there’s more chance of passing it on.

Getting West Nile from gators? That’s something your doctor won’t tell you about!

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