Published: Wed, May 02, 2018
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

More Americans are getting sick from bug bites

More Americans are getting sick from bug bites

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.

Ticks, which transmit most of the diseases spread by organisms, are gaining ground in the United States.

Recent research has suggested that Lyme disease alone strikes up to 300,000 Americans every year, as much as 10-times higher than the number of diagnoses actually made. In 2016, there were more than 47,000 mosquito-borne illnesses, largely due to Zika virus.

Though rare, plague was the most common disease resulting from the bite of an infected flea.

The number of illnesses caused by the bite of infected mosquitoes, ticks and fleas has more than tripled in the United States, and the country is not fully prepared to handle the increased burden, CDC officials said today. "And we don't know what will threaten Americans next". Cases of tick-borne diseases doubled during the study period, from about 22,500 in 2004 to about 48,600 in 2016.

"These diseases are very complicated in nature", Lyle Peterson, MD, MPH, director of the division of Vector-borne Diseases at the CDC, said on a media telebriefing.

"All of these diseases are basically a plane flight away", Petersen said.

Other factors leading to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika include worldwide travel, the CDC said.

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Outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases, especially West Nile, tend to occur during heat waves, Petersen said. This has been a problem in many communities as suburban development moves into formerly rural areas.

The CDC warned that the USA public health system is not fully prepared to fight back against bug-borne illnesses. 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. He added that increasing temperatures can expand the range of ticks further north.

And the number of diseases those bugs spread is growing, too.

Paul Auwaerter, MD, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said vector-borne diseases "can devastate patients and their families, causing significant suffering", and that the IDSA urges Congress to increase funding for surveillance and prevention efforts, including resources to support finding the best prevention methods. The diseases they carry vary by region, and those regions are expanding. 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. "And this isn't limited to the typical tick hotspot states".

Authors of the report stressed that out of 16 reportable vector-borne diseases, only 1 of them-yellow fever-has a vaccine that individuals can use to protect themselves against infection, which is particularly troublesome as the burden of these diseases continues to grow.

The CDC report also does not specifically mention climate change or global warming as factors.

The range of diseases, many of which are new and challenging for health officials to combat, is wide -- as is the growing burden of mosquito-borne and tickborne illnesses in the U.S. State and local health departments and vector control organizations are the nation's main defense against this increasing threat.

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