August 19, 2018
Vector-Borne Illnesses on the Rise
Health News

Vector-Borne Illnesses on the Rise

by Susan Randel  

A new report from the CDC has alarming news about the rate of diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas in the U.S.: They tripled from 2004 to 2016, from about 27,000 to 96,000 per year. What’s more, we are being infected with newly discovered diseases or ones never before seen in this country.

The report also warns that a vast majority of health agencies charged with helping to prevent such illnesses—known as vector-borne illnesses—are unprepared to combat the increased prevalence of disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas(called vectors). This means that more people in the U.S. are at risk of getting sick not just with familiar conditions such as Lyme disease and West Nile disease, but also from infections that have historically been restricted to warmer climates, such as the mosquito-borne Zika and chikungunya viruses. Cases of both have now been reported in the U.S.

While Lyme disease, which is transmitted by ticks, remains a significant problem, the CDC report points out severalother tick-borne diseases that are also now a threat in the U.S., including anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus, spotted fever rickettsioses, and tularemia.

The CDC cites increased travel within the U.S. and overseas, as well as the identification of new infectious organisms, particularly ones carried by ticks, as key drivers of the growth in reported vector-borne illnesses. Travel for business or pleasure allows people to return home infected with a virus such as Zika, for example. Although the report steers clear of the topic, climate change is likely involved—since warmer temperatures allow ticks to spread into areas that previously could not support them, and extended or more frequent heat waves allow mosquitoes to thrive.

The report notes that local and state health departments and other health agencies in the U.S. are not adequately funded to combat outbreaks of vector-borne illnesses. Agencies must be able to monitor the location and density of the various vector (e.g., mosquito) populations; collect and analyze the monitoring data; plan the best methods for controlling the vectors; apply those methods; and make sure the vectors are not becoming resistant to the pesticides. The CDC calls for more federal funding to study disease-carrying vectors and build up the capabilities of state and local agencies to combat them.

In the meantime, the new report provides extra reason to be vigilant about protecting yourself from tick, mosquito, and flea bites and taking steps to discourage disease-carrying bugs from hanging out around your home and yard. For tips, see How to Prevent Mosquito Bites, Summer Bugs That Can Bite You, and Beware of Ticks Carrying Lyme Disease.