By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Tick, flea and mosquito infections are increasing rapidly across the United States, warns a new report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The number of Americans sickened from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled between 2004 and 2016. Reported infections rose from 27,388 in 2004 to 96,075 in 2016.
During that 13-year span, the CDC tallied more than 640,000 cases of reported illnesses from the bites of these insects, known as vector-borne agents. New vector-borne agents will be a continuing threat, the CDC said.
Lyme Disease Most Common Tick-Borne Infection in 2016
In 2016, the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. was Lyme disease with 41,680 reported cases. The most common mosquito-borne viruses were West Nile, dengue and Zika. “Although rare, plague was the most common disease resulting from the bite of an infected flea,” the report noted.
The CDC attributes the overall increase in part to nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks. The new germs were discovered or introduced into the United States during the 13 years that were studied.
New CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said, “Zika, West Nile, Lyme and chikungunya — a growing list of diseases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick or flea — have confronted the U.S. in recent years, making a lot of people sick. And we don’t know what will threaten Americans next.”
Dr. Redfield added that the nation’s “first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector-control organizations, and we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases.”
Increases in Infections May Be Due to Climate Change
The rapid increase in infections may be a result of climate change. Higher temperatures and shorter winters are increasing populations of ticks, mosquitoes and other carriers, according to the CDC report.
Climate change “enables these ticks to expand to new areas. Where there are ticks, there comes diseases,” explained Dr. Lyle Petersen, Director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Many other factors are at work, he added, including increased jet travel and a lack of vaccines.
Certain US Regions Vulnerable to Tick-Borne Diseases
Tick-borne diseases are increasing steadily in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and California. Ticks spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other illnesses, some of them only recently discovered.
The CDC estimates that about 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year, primarily in states in the upper Midwest and Northeast. But only about 35,000 diagnoses are reported.
More than 80 percent of vector-control organizations across the United States lack the capacity to prevent and control these fast-spreading illnesses. Petersen said, however, that federal programs are increasing funding to those organizations.
How Public Health Agencies Can Control Spread of Insect-Related Diseases
The CDC recommends that state and local public health agencies take the following steps to help control the spread of insect-related illnesses:
- Build and sustain public health programs that test for and track diseases and the mosquitoes and ticks that spread them.
- Train vector control staff on five core competencies for conducting prevention and control activities.
- Educate the public about how to prevent bites and control germs spread by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas in their communities.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Mosquito, Tick and Flea Bites
- Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Treat items, such as boots, pants, socks and tents, with permethrin or using permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
- Take steps to control ticks and fleas on pets.
- Find and remove ticks daily from family members and pets.
- Take steps to control mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas inside and outside the home.