CDC: Diseases from mosquitoes, ticks on the rise

Lynn Cook
May 2, 2018

The number of vector-borne illnesses in the USA tripled from 2004 to 2016, rising to almost 650,000 cases, CDC researchers reported. Only one vaccine is available against yellow fever, a mosquito-borne disease that hasn't been seen in the USA but could show up again, according to the CDC report. These diseases are spread as mosquitoes expand into new territory and are brought home by travelers.

"Why the increase? Mosquitoes and ticks are moving into new areas nationwide", Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC said in a media telebriefing.

There are several factors behind the increase in these diseases, the researchers said.

Warm weather brings out mosquitoes and triggers the northward movement of ticks, which are most prevalent in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

Although state and local health departments get brief infusions of cash during scares like the 2016 Zika epidemic, they are chronically underfunded.

For example, recent data from clinical and laboratory diagnoses estimate that Lyme disease infects about 300,000 Americans every year, which is eight to 10 times more than the number reported in the CDC analysis.

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Cases of tick-borne disease more than doubled, and accounted for more than three-quarters of all vector-borne disease, reported Ronald Rosenberg, ScD, of the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues.

The number of illnesses in the US caused by mosquito, tick and flea bites has made a dramatic jump in the last decade, raising concerns that a changing climate could lead to more widespread viral outbreaks.

Infections in 2016 went up 73 percent from 2015, reflecting the emergence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects. Lyme disease is the most common sickness transmitted by ticks, accounting for more than 36,000 tickborne diseases in 2016.

"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".

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

Petersen said that federal programs are increasing funding for those organizations. "Increasing temperatures will tend to expand the ranges of these ticks further north as well as increasing the length of tick season".

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Petersen also noted that humans have moved into areas where there are more deer, putting them at higher risk for tick-borne diseases.

The responsibility for detecting and responding to diseases spread by vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks is nearly all funded locally and operated by local and state health departments.

Ticks and mosquitoes and fleas, oh my.

Rosenberg's group examined data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System for 16 notifiable vector-borne diseases. Petersen said the agency is using two strategies to better prepare the organizations to prevent and control the threats.

"It will take all of us to prevent this", Dr. Redfield stressed.

"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.

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Other factors, including an increase in global travel and more people living near wildlife, also affect the spread of these diseases, Petersen said.

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