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Number Of People Getting Mosquito-Borne Infections Is Rising

Federal health authorities have found 9 new diseases in the bugs

Texas is in the top 20% of states when it comes to the number of people getting diseases from mosquitoes, and the number of people infected by mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks has tripled in the United States since 2004.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) released a report Tuesday detailing the recent rise in cases of infectious diseases. Cases include long-known diseases, as well as nine new pathogens that have been discovered or introduced to the United States since 2004.

While the C.D.C. report covers mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks, it is mosquitoes that Texans on the Gulf Coast have the most to worry about.

This Centers for Disease Control map shows Texas in the top 20% of states seeing diseases from mosquitoes.

"We're definitely in a climate that is very appropriate for mosquito-borne disease," said Luis Ostrosky, M.D., a professor of infectious disease at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School and Memorial Hermann. The Gulf Coasts’s humid subtropical climate makes the region particularly well-suited to mosquitoes and therefore disease, especially in warmer months.

But even as the region faces a greater risk, Ostrosky says the Gulf Coast, and specifically Harris County, has fared relatively well. The C.D.C. points to a lack of resources at vector control organizations as a weak point in fighting disease, reporting 8 in 10 organizations “lack critical prevention and control capacities.” However, to Ostrosky, Harris County’s Mosquito and Vector Control division stands out.

“In Houston and Harris County we have extraordinary mosquito control,” Ostrosky said, pointing to the rapid insecticide spraying done after Tropical Storm Harvey flooded the region. Harris County’s spraying has faced criticism from some groups, but county officials say they never spray unless mosquitoes in an area unless the bugs have been tested and found to carry a disease. Still, the C.D.C. and Harris County say the best way to prevent infections is through personal readiness.

"We do need to change our train of thought,” Ostrosky said. “It used to be like, you get mosquito bites, not a big deal, you just get itchy and that's all, but we do have mosquitoes that transmit diseases here in Houston."

To combat mosquitoes, officials recommend using an EPA-approved insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, and checking for stagnant water outside homes.


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