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Pest-borne illnesses have tripled since 2004, CDC says

Biting insects are increasing in numbers and spreading the diseases they carry further

Photo (c) pernsanitfoto - Getty Images
Illnesses spread by ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes have more than tripled in the United States over the past decade, the CDC said in a new report.

In 2004, around 27,388 insect-borne illnesses were reported to the CDC. In 2016, the year the Zika outbreak occurred, more than 96,000 cases of illnesses were transmitted by these insects.

"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. And we don't know what will threaten Americans next," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement.

Reasons for the surge

The spike in the number of illnesses transmitted by biting insects can likely be attributed to a few factors, CDC researchers said.

Warmer weather is a key factor. As temperatures heat up, ticks can expand their range farther north and have a longer active season.

Mosquitoes and ticks are increasing in numbers and moving into new areas -- and they’re carrying the diseases they transmit through their bite with them. The report noted that the mosquito most responsible for transmitting Zika (Aedes aegypti) has now spread to as many as 38 states.  

People who travel overseas are also contributing to the increase in insect-borne illnesses by picking up these illnesses and bringing them back to the United States.

"The data shows that we're seeing a steady increase and spread of tick-borne diseases, and an accelerating trend of mosquito-borne diseases introduced from other parts of the world," Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

Taking precautions

To avoid catching an insect-borne illness, consumers should take precautions against ticks and mosquitoes. Here are a few ways to avoid being bitten:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks when you spend time outside

  • Use a proper insect repellent, especially when walking in wooded and grassy areas

  • Inspect yourself and your family for ticks after spending time in parks or wooded areas

  • Take a shower within two hours after being outside to help wash away ticks

  • Put dry clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks

  • Regularly inspect your pet to make sure they aren’t carrying ticks that can be brought indoors

State and local public health officials must also be proactive in prevention measures, as well as diligent in reporting incidences of pest-borne diseases, the researchers said.

“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,” Petersen said.

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