Gene Abrams sat in the shade in Newtown Estates Park, about two miles from the site of the malaria outbreak in Sarasota County. He didn’t even know there was an explosion. Abrams said no one in her social circle was talking about it, and she hadn’t seen anything about malaria cases on social media.
After being homeless for six months after losing her job in food management, Abrams, of Sarasota, spends almost all of her time outdoors. Without money for food, he cannot protect himself from mosquitoes. His immediate needs for survival come before protection from malaria.
“It’s embarrassing,” Abrams said with tears in his eyes. “I do not like. I have to keep weapons to be safe.
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Since the first case was reported the week of May 21-27, a total of four cases have been confirmed in Sarasota County by the Florida Department of Health, and a fifth case may be investigated by health officials. Residents across the state are advised to use bug spray, avoid mosquito-infested areas and wear long pants and shirts at night.
Some residents who spend time near Desoto Acres and the Kensington Park area are unaware or confused by the malaria outbreak.
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In 17th Street Park, Ken Hixson and Alton Ayers sat in folding chairs with sunglasses, glasses of drink. Their two dogs barked and ran at every person who entered the dog park’s creaky metal gate.
Both are less concerned about malaria cases being reported in Kensington Park and Desoto Acres, 2.9 miles away. They decided not to wear bug spray.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” Hickson said. “No mosquitoes in the middle today.”
Ayers, of Sarasota, wears a wide-brimmed hat to protect against the sun. He lives across the street from DeSoto Acres, one of the blast sites. He said standing water where mosquitoes breed is not a problem for him. In fact, he said, he had to keep refilling his birdbath.
He believes the increase in travel has led to malaria cases. Although local officials have said the disease is not human-transmitted, these cases have confirmed local transmission, meaning individuals have been infected with malaria by a mosquito or mosquitoes in the Sarasota area.
“I believe it’s coming from somewhere,” Ayers said. “It’s made worse by coming from other countries.”
Roel Dinglason, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that an asymptomatic carrier of malaria, infected with malaria from another country, came into the Sarasota area and it was there. Mosquito bites here. The bug may then infect someone else in the area.