Diagnoses of diseases transmitted through mosquito, flea, and tick bites have tripled since 2004.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made available their first Vital Signs report; it contains the latest information about the spread of contagious diseases carried by insects and other organisms in the United States.
The report's findings aren't particularly encouraging. According to CDC authorities, the incidence of diseases caused by mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016, the period assessed in the report.
"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," notes Dr. Robert Redfield, the current CDC director.
Steps must be taken to enhance prevention and treatment strategies in nation-wide health departments, he advises. But there are also simple measures that individuals can take to protect themselves and their loved ones from infection, which the report also lists.
"Our nation's first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector [pathogen carrier] control organizations, and we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases," Dr. Redfield presses.
Nine new types of germs identified
CDC researchers analyzed data provided via the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, focusing on 16 prominent diseases carried by insects and other organisms. The data covered a period of 12 years, between 2004 and 2016.
They found that 642,602 cases of illnesses caused by tick, flea, or mosquito bites were reported throughout this time. Moreover, they also noted the presence of nine types of germs previously not found in the U.S.
Of these, seven are borne by ticks. And the rate of reported diseases transmitted through these tiny parasites more than doubled over the 2004–2016 period, accounting for over 60 percent of all mosquito, flea, and tick bite-associated illnesses.
The CDC also report that in 2016 — the most recent year for which data are available — the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the U.S. were the notorious Lyme disease, as well as the lesser-known bacterial infections ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.
As for mosquitoes, they introduced previously unknown or uncommon viruses to the U.S., such as the West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya, and the infamous Zika virus. Zika and chikungunya outbreaks were observed here for the first time between 2004 and 2016.
Finally, although very few instances of it have been reported, plague was the most common flea-borne disease noted throughout this period.
The CDC support prevention and control
To prevent the further spread of these vector-borne diseases, CDC officials note that local and state health authorities should become better equipped to track, diagnose, and report such instances as they occur.
Also, they encourage both public and private institutions to start developing better tools for diagnosing such diseases, and for keeping potentially harmful insect and other vector populations under control.
"We need to support state and local health agencies responsible for detecting and responding to these diseases and controlling the mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that spread them," says Dr. Lyle Petersen, the director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.
CDC officials suggest that, to enhance prevention and protection, institutions in the public sector should:
- develop targeted public health programs
- train staff on the competencies needed to engage in vector prevention and control activities
- educate citizens about pathogen carriers, the risk of disease, and prevention measures
On that count, the steps that any individual can take to reduce the risk of infection from mosquito, tick, or flea bites are fairly easy and straightforward.
They include: using Environmental Protection Agency-approved insect repellents; wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants in areas with large vector populations; making sure that pets remain flea- and tick-free; and taking the appropriate measures to eliminate mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas from the home.
As for the CDC, they pledge to dedicate more funds to U.S. states and territories to respond to the spread of mosquito, tick, and flea populations. They also promise to develop improved laboratory tests and treatments for vector-borne diseases and to educate the public about risks and prevention strategies.