The number of Americans sickened by bites from infected mosquitoes, ticks or fleas tripled from 2004 to 2016 - a result of rising global temperatures and increased worldwide travel, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.
Overseas travel also is contributing to the increase, with travelers picking up insect-borne illnesses in other lands and bringing them back to the United States. In my home state of Rhode Island, where winters have gotten warmer and shorter, these tiny, sesame seed-sized insects have more time to bite humans and spread Lyme disease.
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.
What's more, nine germs spread by these insects - including Zika virus and chikungunya virus, which spread by mosquitoes, and babesiosis, which spreads by ticks - were discovered or introduced to the USA during the study period, according to the report.
The number of vector-borne illnesses in the US tripled from 2004 to 2016, rising to almost 650,000 cases. However, a 2016 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program found evidence that climate change has contributed to the expanding range of ticks.
In 2004, just 27,388 cases of these diseases were reported.
Data have shown that Zika, once thought to be a benign virus, has caused numerous birth defects in the U.S. Zika and West Nile, which has caused epidemics since it was first introduced in the U.S.in 1999, were the most commonly reported mosquito-borne diseases in the continental U.S.
"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".
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According to data from a new CDC Vital Signs report, more than 640,000 cases of vector-borne illnesses like Zika, West Nile virus and Lyme disease were reported to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS) by state health departments from 2004 through 2016, although the actual total is thought to be much higher.
"Why the increase? Mosquitoes and ticks are moving into new areas nationwide", Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC said in a media telebriefing. Longer, hotter summers are not helping, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Warmer weather has also made tick and mosquito season longer, and mosquitoes tend to become more infectious during heat waves.
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.
"We understand that Congress and the administration have many hard choices to make", he said.
"Vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and Zika virus disease can devastate patients and their families, causing significant suffering", he told Agence France-Presse.
Treating outdoor gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
"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.
People with pets should regularly inspect the animals to make sure they aren't carrying ticks that can be brought indoors, Glatter said.