The number of reported cases of disease from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 2004 and 2016, more than 640,000 cases of these diseases were reported, and nine new germs spread by bites from infected mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced in the U.S. since 2004.
Fortunately, however, Dr. Jim Wilde, attending physician in the Children’s Hospital of Georgia pediatric emergency department and an infectious disease physician, says, “We have not seen an uptick in diseases borne by ticks and mosquitoes in our area. We do not have a huge burden of insect-borne diseases in the United States.
Ticks can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, Wilde says, but these diseases are not prevalent in Georgia.
People also can contract encephalitis from the bite of a mosquito that is infected with West Nile virus, and symptoms include fever, headache, body aches and skin rash. However, says Wilde, “Most people who get it don’t know they got it. It is a relatively mild infection for most people.”
In addition, he says, “In the last 12 months, the Zika virus has disappeared from the U.S. mosquito population.
However, he says, Zika still can be found in the Caribbean and South America, particularly Brazil, so people traveling to those areas, as well as to Africa and Southeast Asia, should take precautions against insect-borne diseases. Travelers should consult their physicians and check the CDC website to find out which diseases are common in the areas they plan to visit and find out what precautions they should take. Wilde also advises people to check the website three to four months before their international travel so that they will have time to take proper precautions.
“The biggest concern of insect bites is people scratching the bites and then getting secondary infections from staph. This can cause an abscess or a more widespread skin infection like cellulitis,” Wilde says. “We see 10 to 30 cases of abscesses or skin infections in the ER per week.”
According to the physician, the best way to stay safe from insect bites is to keep from getting bitten in the first place. People should apply an insect repellant with DEET to exposed areas of the body before going outside, he says, and a repellant containing 30 percent DEET is safe for children. He also suggests that anyone who is going hiking in the woods can soak their clothing in permethrin beforehand.
“The extremes of age – the very young and the very old – are most vulnerable to insect-borne diseases,” Wilde says.