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Insect-Borne Illnesses on the Rise

by Paul-Martin Foss

As the weather begins to warm up this spring, many people will undoubtedly want to take to the outdoors. But more than ever, they will have to protect themselves against insect-borne diseases. The number of illnesses caused by ticks and mosquitoes has more than tripled since 2004, and that’s just the cases that have been reported. Many more people may have suffered from insect-caused diseases without bringing them to the attention of medical professionals.

One supposed reason for this increase is rising average temperatures. As temperatures rise, insects that might have been killed off in a cold, harsh winter are now able to overwinter, leading to stable insect populations that weren’t around before. And as the population continues to grow and more and more wild land is developed, that puts insects into increasing contact with human beings, as well as providing them with a ready host.

Another factor is increased international travel and international trade. People who travel abroad may unwittingly carry back exotic diseases from overseas, which then can be spread by mosquitoes. And insect eggs or larvae that may be present in shipping containers or imported goods can also lead to insects and diseases from overseas being more easily spread within the United States.

Lyme disease is one of the diseases that has seen a dramatic increase, although that may be partially due to increased awareness of and diagnosis of the disease. Unlike other tick-borne diseases, Lyme disease is currently most prevalent in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, although it too seems to be spreading.

Most worrying is an allergy caused by bites from the lone star tick, native to the southeastern United States but rapidly spreading northwards and westward. Its bite can result in victims developing an allergy to meat, an allergy that in some individuals can last for decades if not a lifetime. So if you plan to visit the great outdoors this summer, make sure you take the proper precautions to prevent yourself from falling victim to a mosquito- or tick-borne illness.

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