The arrival of warmer weather also means more mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, potentially bringing more diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week.
Illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the U.S., with more than 640,000 cases reported between 2004-2016. Nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks were discovered or introduced into the United States in that time period, the CDC said.
One doctor concerned about the potential for an increase in disease is Dr. Steven Wishner, an internal medicine specialist at the NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group in Huntington Station.
He’s seen an increase in people with tick bites and diseases brought by them, as well as a growth in people worried that they’re victims of ticks or other insects.
Those diseases include Lyme, babesiosis, a Lone Star tick bite that can cause a meat allergy, and the Powassan virus, and West Nile disease carried by mosquitoes.
“There is a lot more Lyme disease,” Wishner said. “It used to be we saw it only in summer. Now we see tick bites almost every week.
“We are also seeing an increase in babesiosis, which is transmitted by ticks. It’s sometimes hard to diagnose. And we’re starting to see Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.”
Patients can unknowingly carry Lyme disease for months, potentially harming a patient’s heart or brain. Wishner advises that people who find a tick on themselves not try to remove it but go into a doctor’s office so it can be completely removed. He warns too that pets can carry ticks into the homes of people who have spent little time outdoors and think they’re safe from bites.
Another source of threat is standing water in backyards. “A slip and slide can collect water,” he said. Use insect repellent, he said, recommending DEET. “The risks of contracting a disease far outweighs the the potential harm of an insect spray.”
It’s not only the warm weather that increases the chance of the spread of previously unfamiliar diseases, Wishner said. “It’s globalization,” he said. “Thirty-six hours ago, someone was in sub-Saharan Africa, and now they’re here.”
Wishner also said other diseases are likely to pop up in the future. “We need to have a system in place” to identify and handle a pandemic before it can spread too far. Part of that prevention protocol includes having a good relationship with a medical professional, who, through regular screening, might spot signs of illness. “I wish people would take these diseases more seriously,” he said.