Diseases from mosquitoes, ticks on the rise — CDC

Cheryl Sanders
May 2, 2018

And the germs that have been discovered in recent years also add to the number of reported vector-borne diseases in the United States, the CDC said. In 2016, there were more than 47,000 mosquito-borne illnesses, largely due to Zika virus. West Nile virus (WNV) was the most commonly transmitted mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States, according to the report, followed by dengue and Zika virus.

Using a national database, researchers analyzed reported cases of 16 different vector-borne diseases (six tick-borne diseases, nine mosquito-borne diseases and one flea-borne disease), from 2004 to 2016. 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 USA, the report said. Plague, the only nationally notifiable flea-borne illness in the country, remains rare and is mostly reported from the Southwest, where it is associated with prairie dog dens.

"Many of these diseases are sensitive to temperatures", Dr. Peterson said.

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The increase in disease cases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick or flea in the United States is most likely the result of many factors. In 2016, the number of Lyme diseases reported for the United States was 36,429. Longer, hotter summers are not helping, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Plus, new vectors, like a tick from Asia that was recently found in New Jersey for the first time, continue to appear and may bring new diseases.

The nine new threats reported in the US since 2004 include seven new tick-borne pathogens, including the Heartland and Bourbon viruses in the Midwest and a new Borrelia species - B. mayonii - that has caused Lyme disease in the upper Midwest. He highlighted the 1,900 vector control organizations, and said that improving them requires "a long-term sustainable effort". In fact, tick-borne diseases actually doubled over the course of the 13-year time period, with Lyme disease accounting for the majority of those infections.

With added support, these agencies can better test for and track diseases and pests, train staff to conduct prevention and control activities, and educate the public on how to prevent bites, the researchers said. 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. Warmer weather has not only moved the tick population further north and expanded tick season, but hotter temperatures "make mosquitoes more infectious", which promotes outbreaks, he said.

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The responsibility for detecting and responding to diseases spread by vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks is nearly all funded locally and operated by local and state health departments. Protection is possible... It sounds ambitious, but I would encourage everyone to never underestimate the power of the possible.

Disclosures: Auwaerter, Petersen and Redfield report no relevant financial disclosures.

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