Mosquitoes and Ticks and Fleas, Oh My!

“Disease cases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites tripled in the US from 2004 to 2016,” according to the CDC, with over 640,000 cases reported. They are blunt in their assessment that the U.S. is currently ill prepared to deal with vector borne diseases. State and local health departments, which the CDC notes are critical in controlling these diseases, are chronically underfunded.

Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, the agency’s director of vector-borne diseases, says that “the numbers on some of these diseases have gone to astronomical levels,” and that “the real case numbers were undoubtedly far larger.” He explains there are several factors at play:

“Ticks thriving in regions previously too cold for them, and hot spells triggering outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases. Other factors include expanded human travel, suburban reforestation and a dearth of new vaccines to stop outbreaks…A recent survey of mosquito control agencies found that 84 percent needed help with such basics as surveillance and testing for resistance to pesticides”

A handful of super fun tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Powassan virus, and Tularemia.

For the mosquito lovers, there’s Chikungunya, Dengue, Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Zika, and malaria.

As you should know from reading this blog, the best known disease caused by fleas: the Plague.

The Plague is Back!

Actually, it never left. At least not in Madagascar, where plague is endemic, and is reported every year in the area. In fact, they even have a plague season. It runs from September through April, and they usually get about 400 cases each year. However, according the WHO “the ongoing pneumonic plague event has been reported in a non-endemic area and in densely populated cities for the first time.”  There have already been more then 300 cases and 40 deaths in Madagascar and plague season is just getting started.

Usually, bubonic plague is the more common form in this area, and is transmitted via fleas. Pneumonic plague, which effects the lungs, is airborne, and is therefore more easily spread and more deadly. If left untreated, bubonic plague travels to the lungs and becomes pneumonic plague. Without antibiotics, pneumonic plague is 100% fatal. The WHO is working on distributing more antibiotics, but for a disease that’s spread via the air and has reached a densely populated area, they are facing a complicated race against time.

WHO Plague Fact Sheet

“The black death is alive and well in the American Southwest”

Or at least that’s what the news would like you to believe in their alarmist articles. The plague! Fleas! (Fleas are legitimately terrifying I admit.)

“Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include the following: fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands (called ‘buboes’) in the groin, armpits or limbs. The disease can become septicemic (spreading throughout the bloodstream) and/or pneumonic (affecting the lungs), but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.”

I know, I know, put the “the plague” in an article headline and you get clicks. And yes, it can be fatal. But the above quote should be more heavily emphasized, as many people will read the headline and nothing else. Seriously, one headline reads:  “Black Death hits AMERICA as the medieval plague that wiped out a quarter of the world’s population is found in FLEAS in Arizona.” This is accurate but melodramatic, as a similar death toll is unlikely to happen today.

On the other hand, I could be wrong! Who knows! Everything is a gamble. Enjoy this giant picture of a flea. Pro tip: Don’t go out of your way to search for flea or plague pictures.