Published: Wed, May 02, 2018
Medical | By Alyssa Little

Vector-borne diseases more than triple in US, CDC says

Vector-borne diseases more than triple in US, CDC says

"The bottom line is illnesses from mosquitoes, ticks and flea bites continue to impact our nation", CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, said in his first telebriefing since he was appointed to lead the federal health agency. The longevity, distribution, biting habits, and proliferation of the vectors all affect disease transmission, and, according to the report, they're all dependent on environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, and shelter. In a partnership with the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, his lab also tests ticks from throughout the United States; people who have been bitten send the tick to his lab to determine what kind of tick it is and whether it's infected with Lyme.

For example, Aedes aegypti - the mosquito most responsible for transmitting Zika - has now expanded its range into as many as 38 states, the report found.

"Nine new germs - seven of them spread by ticks - have been newly introduced or discovered in the United States since 2004", he added.

Lyle R. Petersen, MD, MPH, an Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member and director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, said warmer temperatures allow ticks to move farther north, increasing their range and extending the length of tick season, which places more people at risk for infection.

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The CDC said it is likely that the 640,000 cases of bug-borne illnesses grossly understates the actual number of cases around the USA because many other cases are never diagnosed or treated properly.

The number of vector-borne illnesses in the USA tripled from 2004 to 2016, rising to almost 650,000 cases. West Nile, dengue, and Zika accounted for the most mosquito-borne infections. Overall, more than 640,000 cases of these so-called vector-borne diseases were reported during the study period.

Currently, the most common tick-borne disease in the United States is Lyme disease. The diseases they carry vary by region, and those regions are expanding. West Nile virus, also spread by mosquitoes, is widespread across the continental United States where it is the major mosquito-borne disease. Puerto Rico experienced four dengue outbreaks, the worst hitting in 2010 and from 2012 to 2013. Overseas travel and commerce are also increasingly common, and someone infected with a mosquito-borne disease like Zika in one country can unknowingly transport it home.

The findings, published in the CDC's Vital Signs report, were based on data reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System from 2004 through 2016. Petersen said the agency is using two strategies to better prepare the organizations to prevent and control the threats.

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Commenting on the CDC report, Paul Auwaerter, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, called for more research money for diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for Zika, Lyme disease, and other serious vector-borne diseases.

"What I can say is that any of these diseases are very sensitive to temperatures, so when there are increasing temps, it promotes several things", Petersen said.

"Zika funding helped prepare us for these types of diseases, but more funding is necessary", he said. "Like our patients, we are looking for answers, too".

The CDC said local public health departments need to do more to control mosquito, tick and flea populations.

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Educate the public about how to prevent bites and control germs spread by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas in their communities.

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