According to a new report from Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in recent years.
Health officials reported on Tuesday that since 2004, at least nine such diseases have been discovered or introduced in the country, with 642,602 cases reported during the 13 years from 2004 through 2016.
Scientists also discovered seven new germs spread as a result of an infected tick’s bite in that time frame.
“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,” Robert R. Redfield, CDC director, said in a news release. “Our Nation’s first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector control organizations, and we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases.”
Researchers analyzed data reported to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System for 16 notifiable vector-borne diseases, but note that many infections aren’t reported or recognized so it’s difficult to estimate the overall burden.
Here’s what researchers learned about Georgia’s tick-, flea- and mosquito-borne disease cases between 2004-2016:
- 1,420 mosquito-borne disease cases reported
- 1,427 tickborne disease cases reported
Most common tick-, mosquito- and flea-borne diseases in the U.S. in 2016:
The most recent data shows the most common tickborne diseases in the U.S. were Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis/anaplasmosis. The most common mosquito-borne viruses were West Nile, dengue, and Zika. Plague was the most common disease resulting from the bite of an infected flea.
What’s causing the increase?
According to the CDC, there are multiple factors involved. But because overseas travel and commerce are more common than ever before, germs are increasingly spreading and moving into new regions.
“A traveler can be infected with a mosquito-borne disease, like Zika, in one country, and then unknowingly transport it home,” the CDC report states.
In addition to travel, new germs have also been discovered and added to the list of nationally notifiable diseases.
Read the full CDC report here.
Lyle Petersen of the CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases said it’s important that state and local health agencies work together to detect, prevent and respond to such diseases.
That starts with community education about how to prevent bites and control germs and includes the development of public health programs responsible for testing and tracking mosquitoes, ticks and fleas and related diseases.
How you can prevent, find and get rid of ticks
It’s important to be on the lookout for ticks in the yard, on our pets and near wooded, brushy areas.
Check your body (and your kids’, pets’ bodies) on the regular, focusing on areas such as the underarms, in and around ears, in hair, inside the belly button, behind knees, between legs and around the waist, the CDC advises.
You can prevent ticks by making cleanliness (and avoiding those moist, shady areas) a big priority during the warmer months — declutter your house, clean the yard and do both often, sanitizing every nook and crevice in your home.
The CDC also recommends using a repellant with at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535 to be used on exposed skin. For on-clothing repellants, choose products with permethrin.
If you suspect ticks found their way to your clothing or bedspreads, wash everything in hot water for 10 minutes.
The CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as closely to the skin's surface as possible and steadily pull upward to avoid causing the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.
If the mouth-parts do break off, remove them with tweezers. And if you can’t remove the mouth-parts, just leave it alone and let the skin heal by itself.
Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the bite area and wash your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or simply use soap and water.
If the tick is still alive, submerge it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag or container and wrap it tightly in tape before you throw it in the trash.
You can also flush the tick down the toilet, but the CDC does not recommend crushing the bug with your fingers.
Read the full CDC report here.