GCCRM.com » Your Health

New Threats On The Horizon

Most people see bugs as just pesky backyard nuisances. But as more housing springs up in once-rural areas, suburbanites are coming in much closer contact with mosquitoes and ticks capable of transmitting serious illnesses. And sometimes, a bug bite can mean big trouble.

What’s more, because many bug-borne diseases cause flulike symptoms, they can often be misdiagnosed and result in potentially serious complications. Doctors usually suspect an insect-related disease if you know you’ve recently been bitten or have spent time in a wooded area. The diagnosis is confirmed through a blood test.

“People should be aware of these diseases, and take precautions,” says Duane Gubler, Sc.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) division of vector-borne infectious diseases, in Ft. Collins, CO. The best protection is prevention, especially in prime mosquito territory: woods, wetlands, marshes, and lakes. When possible, wear long sleeves and long pants while in these areas. On exposed skin and on clothing, always use an insect repellent containing the active ingredient DEET, but be sure you follow the directions carefully. The repellent can cause rashes, seizures, and irritability when it’s overused, especially on children. Adults should use the repellent on hands, arms, legs, and faces (but no higher than the cheeks because sweat can cause it to run into the eyes). Don’t use DEET on a child’s hands or face. Most repellents last two to three hours; reapply when necessary.

Mosquito-Spread Viruses

ST. LOUIS ENCEPHALITIS is the only mosquito-borne disease indigenous to the United States that is capable of causing large epidemics.

Number of cases: 4,438 reported cases since 1964.

Locations: It can be found all over the United States. In midwestern urban and suburban locations, the virus is carried by mosquitoes that breed in the waste water of storm drains. In western states, the transmitting insects breed in irrigation ditches and ponds.

Symptoms: Headache, fever, and muscle aches; you’ll feel as though you have the flu. It’s rarely fatal.

Treatment: There is no antiviral treatment for any of the mosquito-transmitted encephalitis diseases. The only thing doctors can do is offer “supportive therapy”–keeping patients hydrated and treating symptoms or complications as they arise.

LA CROSSE ENCEPHALITIS is named for the Wisconsin city where it was first identified. The virus is transmitted by a day-biting mosquito that breeds in tree holes. You’re at risk in or near deciduous-forest areas. The risk increases greatly if people are careless about leaving auto tires, tin cans or buckets, and other trash outside, because anything that collects rainwater can serve as a breeding site for mosquitoes.

Number of cases: 2,286 reported cases since 1964.

Locations: Primarily in the upper and central midwestern states, although it is beginning to be detected in the southeastern United States.

Symptoms: Same as St. Louis encephalitis. The disease has a fatality rate of between 1 and 5 percent.

Treatment: Supportive therapy.

EASTERN EQUINE ENCEPHALITIS is the most rare but most serious of these three mosquito-borne diseases. The virus is associated with mosquitoes that breed in swamp areas, although occasionally it can occur elsewhere. “This was a big problem last summer in parts of New England due to the heavy rainfall,” says John La Montagne, Ph.D., director of the division of microbiology and infectious diseases for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Number of cases: 153 confirmed cases in the United States since 1964.

Locations: Primarily in rural areas along the Eastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and in some upper midwestern states.

Symptoms: Same as St. Louis encephalitis, but it has a 30 percent fatality rate. “It’s a very serious disease that can cause permanent injury to the brain,” says La Montagne.

Treatment: Supportive therapy.

Tick-Spread Diseases

LYME is the most common of the tickborne diseases, and “one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the country,” according to La Montagne.

Number of cases: More than 16,000 cases in 44 states were reported to the CDC in 1996 alone.

Locations: The Northeast, from Massachusetts to Maryland, North Central states, especially Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the West Coast, particularly California.

Symptoms: Early stage: flulike discomfort (may include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes) and in most cases, an expanding ringlike rash around the site of the bite. Latter-stage disease can result in arthritis, inflammation of the lining of the heart, and neurological disorders. It’s not fatal, but it can be quite serious if it goes undiagnosed and untreated, resulting in joint disease and neurological disorders. Treatment: Antibiotics (usually doxycycline, amoxicillin, or ceftriaxone) are given orally, except in more severe cases, when they’re administered intravenously.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER, which can sometimes be severe, is spread by dog ticks.

Number of cases: 590 cases reported in 1995.

Locations: Though ticks carrying this disease can be found in virtually every state, risk varies tremendously from region to region. The disease was first found in the Rocky Mountains, but is now more of a problem in the central and southeastern United States.

Symptoms: Rash and fever.

Treatment: Oral antibiotics.

EHRLICHIOSIS, a newly recognized infection, is transmitted by the same tick that causes Lyme disease.

Number of cases: 489 cases reported since 1985. But because reporting cases to the CDC is not required, the number of actual cases is probably greater, says Gubler.

Locations: Same as for Lyme disease.

Symptoms: Rash and fever, but this disease can also cause serious complications–respiratory difficulties, heart damage, seizures, and coma.

Treatment: Oral antibiotics.

RELAPSING FEVER is spread to humans through the soft ticks that feed on rodents. “You find it transmitted to people who live or stay in mountain cabins,” Gubler says. “The best way to prevent it is to get rid of the rodents.”

Number of cases: 285 cases reported since 1985. (Because reporting the disease isn’t required, the actual number is probably higher.)

Locations: Usually found in mountainous areas. There have been recent outbreaks in the Grand Canyon and in Colorado.

Symptoms: Recurring episodes of fever. “The fever drops, and then twenty-four hours later, you get a relapse,” says Gubler.

Treatment: Oral antibiotics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *