With hot summer days bearing down on North Texas, so are the summer bugs.
Illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites have tripled in the U.S., with more than 640,000 cases reported from 2004 through 2016, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control.
Michael Allen, who leads the Tick-Borne Disease Research Laboratory at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, says there are many reasons for the spike.
“We have better surveillance, but there's been the introduction of a lot of new diseases over that time frame,” he said. “The way the CDC is counting the number of diseases has changed a little bit. Plus, global warming [and] climate change have influenced the disease prevalence and changes in landscape use.”
North Texans have to watch out for these bugs and their accompanying diseases not only at home this summer, but also when traveling to other states. Different species of the same bug can carry different diseases depending on the region of the country.
For example, if you visit the Northeast or Great Lakes area this summer, you could be at a greater risk for ticks carrying Lyme disease, which is “by far the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the United States,” Allen says.
Interview Highlights: Michael Allen
On the most prevalent diseases in North Texas
The numbers for West Nile, vectored by mosquitoes, are higher in the Dallas-Fort Worth area than other areas around the country. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and similar rickettsioses are vectored by ticks; we see incidence of that. We've also seen some incidence of flea-borne typhus, Murine typhus, particularly in Tarrant County; there’s been an uptick in the number of cases of the last couple of years.
On the signs that you need to seek help
The vast majority of diseases start off with some kind of flu-like symptoms. So, you have fever, muscle aches, general malaise. Sometimes these things will have a rash involved, but not always. If you know you've been bitten by a tick, particularly if you've been to an endemic area where a disease is prevalent, and a couple of weeks later you think you have the flu, you should definitely see a health care professional.
On the best ways to avoid bug bites
Clothing is important, but also different forms of EPA-approved repellant. Cover yourself with spray containing DEET. If you're going into the woods and you want to avoid ticks, wear light-colored pants, even tuck your pants into your socks. You may look like a fool, but you can avoid some ticks that way. The light-colored clothing makes it easier to see if a tick is crawling on you.
Interview responses have been edited for clarity and length.
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