Published: Wed, May 02, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Mass. among the hardest-hit states as tick, mosquito illnesses rise

Mass. among the hardest-hit states as tick, mosquito illnesses rise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says disease transmitted by the insects has more than tripled in the United States in recent years.

"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 United States in recent years, making a lot of people sick", CDC chief Robert Redfield said.

"The bottom line is illnesses from mosquitoes, ticks and flea bites continue to impact our nation", CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, said in his first telebriefing since he was appointed to lead the federal health agency.

Several factors are likely behind the increase, researchers said.

CDC officials said the United States is unprepared for a rise in illnesses caused by the bites of mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.

For example, Aedes aegypti - the mosquito most responsible for transmitting Zika - has now expanded its range into as many as 38 states, the report found.

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The CDC warned that the US public health system is not fully prepared to fight back against bug-borne illnesses.

West Nile virus is the most common infection spread by mosquitoes in the U.S. It was introduced in NY in 1999 and has since spread across the continent, causing annual epidemics, Petersen said. Longer, hotter summers are not helping, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Of the 642,602 total reported cases, more than 75 percent were caused by tick-borne diseases - most commonly, Lyme disease. West Nile, dengue and Zika were the most common mosquito-borne germs.

Some 96,075 diseases caused by such bites were reported in 2016, up from 27,388 in 2004, according to the CDC.

Tick-borne diseases alone more than doubled during that time frame, and accounted for more than 3 of every 5 cases of insect-transmitted disease in the United States. People also carry these diseases to new places as they travel.

"The mosquito-borne diseases tend to get worse during heat waves". For example, almost 14,000 mosquito-borne illnesses were reported in 2012 - the year of a large West Nile virus outbreak - up from just 4,300 cases reported the year before. They're also blaming the surge to "trade and travel" - insects and their pathogens are arriving in this country via freight and in the blood of travelers themselves, as was the case in 2016 when a majority of U.S. Zika cases were found to be the result of travel overseas.

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The findings were published May 1 by the CDC as a Vital Signs report.

As the number of vector-borne cases continues to increase, the burden on local and state health departments has grown as well.

Dr. Paul Auwaerter, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, urged Congress to increase funding "for surveillance and prevention of vector-borne diseases, including resources to support research on the most effective methods for preventing tick-borne infections".

"Zika funding helped prepare us for these types of diseases, but more funding is necessary", he said.

Climate change, although not explicitly mentioned in the report, is thought to be a major factor in the spread of vectorborne illnesses, especially Lyme disease, as ticks move northward into areas that were previously too cold for their survival.

"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.

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Treating outdoor gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear. Do a "tick check" after spending time outdoors and remove any ticks found immediately; a tick must stay attached for a day or more to transmit Lyme disease.

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