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Health Experts Warn of Increased Mosquito-Born Diseases in the US

(Beyond Pesticides, January 15, 2008) Health officials have warned that a “widespread appearance” of mosquito-born diseases like dengue fever is a real possibility in the US. The disease is already beginning to make is presence felt with cases popping up in Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Dengue, a flu-like illness that infects 50 million to 100 million people a year, has been growing more prevalent and severe as it moves from tropical regions into more temperate areas, where it’s now endemic, and along the U.S. border with Mexico. Many fear that as temperatures increase in temperate regions due to global warming, mosquitoes could extend their northern migration in North America.

“It’s starting to creep up from South America to the Caribbean,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview. “If it can occur right at the tip of Texas, a disease which maybe people never heard of could actually appear here.”

Drs. David Morens and Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases brought attention to the issue in a paper entitled Dengue and Hemorrhagic Fever: A Potential Threat to Public Health in the United States, published in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More than 760,000 cases were reported in the Americas last year, of which some 20,000 involved the virulent form, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever. Hawaii had an outbreak in 2001. Puerto Rico had 10,000 cases last year, and in recent years there have been several cases on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border. The CDC estimates that 100 to 200 cases each year are introduced into the United States by travelers.

“You might say that increased commerce and travel plus global warming are creating a perfect storm’ that allows these and other pathogens to move around the world more effectively,” said William K. Reisen, a research entomologist at the University of California Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases.

Dr. Fauci explains that “[t]here is nothing definitive, but it’s very clear that as [temperatures] get warmer and warmer, the range of certain mosquitoes — and the duration time they are able to circulate – increases.”

Even though many other scientists dispute the potential spread of the disease, all four types of dengue are currently found in the Americas, and the two types of mosquitoes that transmit it are present in the U.S.: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (also called the Asian tiger mosquito). Dr. Fauci pointed out that the Asian tiger was first seen in the U.S. in 1985 and can now be found in 36 states. There is no vaccine for dengue and people infected can have no symptoms or mild to high fevers, severe frontal headaches, severe joint pain and pain behind the eyes. Nausea, vomiting and rashes also can occur. More severe forms include bleeding from the skin, nose or gums and possible internal bleeding. If untreated, it can lead to circulatory-system failure, followed by shock and sometimes death.

Responsible mosquito management can be an effective method of mosquito control. Beyond Pesticides believes the ideal mosquito management strategy emphasizes education, aggressive removal of standing water sources, larval control, monitoring and surveillance for both mosquito-borne illness and pesticide-related illness.

TAKE ACTION: Find out about safer mosquito repellents, smart community mosquito management, and public service announcements you can request to be played on your local radio station at http://www.beyondpesticides.org/mosquito.

Source: LA Times


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