Scientists warn of mosquito, tick-borne illness increase
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As summer brings heavy rains, creating prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, scientists say illnesses the blood-suckers transmit are on the rise. They say it's not just because doctors are diagnosing more of them. What's more, scientists say they're starting to see some diseases for the very first time.
Dr. James Diaz spoke to FOX 8 before his talk on the influx of insect-borne illnesses. He says scientists have seen a more than 10-fold increase in mosquito and tick-borne illnesses in the last 12 years.
"Could that just be a diagnostic or reporting bias? No. It's much more than that," Dr. Diaz said.
He adds that there are a number of factors to blame, including warming of the climate and, in turn, a greater geographical range.
"The range of animals, insects, mosquitoes and ticks included, the Rangers have expanded both at sea level, like us, and even in the Andes and in the Himalayas at higher levels in the mountains," Dr. Diaz explained.
Plus, he says people are spending more time outdoors at the right time of year-- Spring and Summer.
"They're enjoying the outdoors at the same time that ticks are out trying to get a blood meal," said Dr. Diaz.
Yet, that's not to say ticks and mosquitoes are ever inactive in Louisiana.
"It's a year-round fight," said one representative with the the St. Tammany Abatement District.
They say mosquito incubation from eggs to full-grown adults is two to three weeks during winter months compared to six to seven days come summertime.
Dr. Diaz says the wider the ambient temperature-- the lowest temperature in the morning and the highest temperature in the afternoon-- the more likely insects will be active.
"You may get up in the morning, it could be 40° but in the afternoon it could be 70. So, we're seeing, globally now, higher mean wintertime temperatures," Dr. Diaz explained.
He says that extends the seasonal activity of blood-feeding insects, their range and their ability to transmit diseases.
"We are even seeing diseases we can't even name yet," said Dr. Diaz.
"We actually have had some new diseases introduced into the United States. So we have West Nile, Zika, Chikungunya," said Tulane Professor Dawn Wesson.
Plus, the first human case of the Keystone virus, a mosquito-borne brain swelling sickness discovered more than 50 years ago recently found in a Florida teen.
It's why scientists say, it's more important than ever to protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks.
The best way to protect yourself is to ensure there's no standing water around your home. Experts advise you also wear long sleeves when possible and using insect repellent
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