Illnesses caused by ticks, mosquitoes, fleas have surged — CDC

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Using a national database, researchers analyzed reported cases of 16 different vector-borne diseases (six tick-borne diseases, nine mosquito-borne diseases and one flea-borne disease), from 2004 to 2016.

Diseases from mosquitoes, ticks and flea bites tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016, and officials said Tuesday rising temperatures and an increasingly connected global society are to blame.

"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 USA in recent years, making a lot of people sick", said CDC director Robert Redfield. "And we don't know what will threaten Americans next", CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement.

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

Ticks and mosquitoes and fleas, oh my.

Overseas travel also is contributing to the increase, with travelers picking up insect-borne illnesses in other lands and bringing them back to the United States.

West Nile virus is the most common infection spread by mosquitoes in the U.S. It was introduced in NY in 1999 and has since spread across the continent, causing annual epidemics, Petersen said.

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Humans have a hard time controlling creatures like ticks and mosquitoes, and that has made it difficult to stop the spread of many of these diseases, especially the tick-borne ones, which are responsible for the biggest part of the case increase. The report notes an increasing trend in these diseases each year, whereas the burden of mosquito-borne diseases appears to be more episodic, with numbers fluctuating as epidemics occur.

As Redfield and Petersen explained, warmer weather has allowed these disease-spreading pests, called vectors, to expand their range. A person who gets bitten by a vector and gets sick has a vector-borne disease, like dengue, Zika, Lyme, or plague.

Mosquito-borne infections are most likely to hit sunnier states and territories. The diseases they carry vary by region, and those regions are expanding. Mosquitoes and ticks and the germs they spread are increasing in number and moving into new areas.

West Nile virus, the major mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States, can be found widely distributed across the country. Puerto Rico experienced four dengue outbreaks, the worst hitting in 2010 and from 2012 to 2013.

The number of illnesses in the USA 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. That's according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published today (May 1). State and local health departments and vector control organizations are the nation's main defense against this increasing threat.

"The number of reported vector-borne disease cases has tripled over the last 13 years", Petersen told reporters in a telephone briefing. "We also support funding for research to understand better how to safely and effectively treat symptoms that persist in some patients following initial antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease".