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Researchers Confirm the First Known Case of a Human Infected with the Keystone Virus

mosquito-keystone-fb.jpgPhoto: Shutterstock / Mycteria

In August 2016, a 16-year-old boy in North Central Florida was taken to an urgent care clinic after spiking a fever and developing a severe rash. At the time, doctors weren't able to figure out what was making him so sick. They tested for Zika and several other mosquito-borne pathogens but couldn't settle on a proper diagnosis.

"We couldn't identify what was going on," J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., director of the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, told WUSF. "We screened this with all the standard approaches and it literally took a year and a half of sort of dogged laboratory work to figure out what this virus was."

Earlier this month doctors confirmed that the boy was the first known case of a human infected with the mosquito-borne Keystone virus. (Related: Do You Still Have to Worry About the Zika Virus?)

The Keystone virus was first found in the U.S. in 1964 after researchers studied specific types of mosquitoes in Keystone, FL. Since then, it "has been found in animal populations along coastal regions stretching from Texas to the Chesapeake Bay," according to a statement from the University of Florida Health.

There hasn't been a way to test humans for the Keystone virus nor have there been any indications that humans might be susceptible to it. But based on this case, researchers have concluded that it can cause a rash and mild fever in humans.

While the teenage boy showed no signs of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain that can be fatal), Keystone is a part of a group of viruses "known to cause encephalitis in several species, including humans," John Lednicky, Ph.D., a University of Florida research professor in the environmental and global health department of the College of Public Health and Health Professions told WUSF.

Since symptoms of Keystone are similar to those of other infections, other people could have it without knowing. "Although the virus has never previously been found in humans, the infection may actually be fairly common in North Florida," Morris continued. "It's one of these instances where if you don't know to look for something, you don't find it."

As of right now, the virus isn't considered life-threatening, though a lot more research needs to be done. While there is no current test, vaccine, or antiviral treatment for Keystone, experts recommend doing everything you can to prevent mosquito bites from happening in the first place. Wear insect repellent, stay in air-conditioned areas, wear long-sleeved clothes when outside, and keep your screen doors shut to prevent mosquitos and other bugs from getting inside your home. (Here are five other ways to keep mosquitoes from eating you alive.)

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