Diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have more than tripled

Lydia Fleming
May 2, 2018

"Why the increase? Mosquitoes and ticks are moving into new areas nationwide", Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC said in a media telebriefing.

"Amblyomma spp, which is a voracious feeder, has also been identified in the Northeast, where it was usually just in the southern U.S. Depending on where you are in the country, ticks may emerge at a time when most folks aren't aware of them, easily the result of shifts in phenology due to climate change". People also carry these diseases to new places as they travel.

In the time period covered by the study, nine new diseases showed up in the U.S., including seven carried by ticks, and Zika and chikungunya, which are carried by mosquitoes.

"The presence of vectors with proven or possible capacity to transmit a wide range of pathogens leaves the United States susceptible to outbreaks of exotic vector-borne diseases", the report said.

Other factors leading to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases include global travel, the CDC said.

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Those tick-borne pathogens are most prevalent, accounting for about three-quarters of the 640,000 cases. West Nile, dengue and Zika were the most common mosquito-borne germs.

These numbers likely far underestimate the true disease burden from these organisms, the report notes, because people don't always seek care for the infections, which is how the CDC captures the data.

While Petersen noted that tick-borne diseases are going up steadily, with an increase in cases every single year, he described mosquito-borne diseases as more "episodic", going up and down over time. These diseases are spread as mosquitoes expand into new territory and are brought home by travelers. This includes a doubling of diseases transmitted by ticks, which in turn accounted for 60 percent of all vector-borne diseases, he said. Puerto Rico experienced four dengue outbreaks, the worst hitting in 2010 and from 2012 to 2013.

The only reportable illness spread by flea bites is plague, which is still relatively rare in the United States, causing between three and 17 cases each year during the study period, the report said. In that same 13-year period, cases of these diseases tripled, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Officials emphasize the need for state and local governments to build and sustain public health programs that test for and track vector-borne diseases, train vector control staff appropriately, and educate the public on how best to prevent bites and control the spread of germs by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas in their communities.

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The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) seconded that conclusion, calling for more federal funding of research into the development of new vaccines to battle these diseases.

Though Petersen stopped short of saying that climate change was responsible for an increase in these types of illnesses, he did acknowledge that "temperature is important" for vector-borne diseases. "Like our patients, we are looking for answers, too". In addition, during the study period, researchers identified seven tick-borne diseases that could infect people and that were either newly discovered or newly introduced to the US, the report said.

"This includes wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers, and making sure you use a proper insect repellent, especially when walking in wooded and grassy areas, where the risk for tick bites is significantly increased", Glatter said.

Treating outdoor gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

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