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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

Bring Out Your Dead (AKA: Obsessing on diseases)

Last week I started writing an article for a trade journal on small flies in food processing and wound up talking about all the food borne pathogens small flies can carry. I posted about research studies that looked at small flies in hospitals and those pathogens. Since it was National Invasive Species Week last week, almost all of our disease-carrying mosquitoes (in the US) are introduced. Yesterday I posted on ticks expanding their range and having more habitat – and the increased potential for tick borne disease. Apparently, I’m on kick since that seems to be what’s sticking. So here’s a roundup from RECENT news!

The IPCC issued a “harsh warning” that climate change is spurring deadly diseases spread by insects. They specifically called out Lyme disease which is estimated to affect over 400,000 Americans each year. In an upcoming article for PCT Magazine, I pulled together research showing that many of our pest species are expanding their range, especially mosquitoes and ticks. We are always going to see natural fluctuations in populations from year to year, however, climate change will increase populations and increase the ranges of these insects. Personally (because this is my blog!) I think we need less warnings and need to start taking more actions.

It's not just humans that will be more at risk for disease as insects spread. Lots of animals are at risk. In the last few years, African swine fever has been spreading and has come close to the US. This is spread by ticks. With meat prices continuing to increase, can you imagine what will happen to our food supply if pork farms have to shut down? (#savemybacon) Very recently, there have been outbreaks of a disease called lumpy skin disease (LSD) in cattle, spread by mosquitoes. Death rates range between 5-45% and it can severely affect milk production. So we aren’t just losing our steaks, we are losing our milk products too. (#savemycheese).

A few years ago I was in a random conversation with someone talking about diseases and the question was asked “what’s going to be the next pandemic?”. I said it was going to be a bird flu, likely spread by mosquitoes. Yeah, I was wrong. However, bird flu is spreading in the US now. It is now confirmed in South Dakota, Missouri, Maryland, Alabama, Iowa, Massachusets, and possibly more. This can be transmitted to humans. (#savemynuggets)

While ticks and mosquitoes take up much of the news, kissing bugs have also made their appearance. Kissing bugs carry Chaga’s disease which causes long term issues and deaths. While this is a much bigger issue in warmer climates, the species that carries it is now in the US. There have only been a few scattered cases but that could change. Nebraska is the latest (and furthest north possibly) to find these.

Next up: our furry friends. That’s right: our pets are at risk, particularly dogs. Dog heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes. Cases have significantly increased since 2010 and the mosquito that carries it has recently been found as far north as Canada where they didn’t think it had been established. Cats aren’t immune either! (#savemycat)

Continuing with the warmblooded – rodents are a big problem. Though they haven’t been in the news too much in the last few months (aside from the dollar store saga), I still urge concern. There has been a push lately to restrict or even ban rodenticides. California has already done this. Guess what has happened? Yep: rodent populations are expanding. And with expanding populations, diseases are expanding again. The last CDC report was from 2019 and showed two cases of the plague diagnosed in the US and that will likely increase going forward. There’s also Hantavirus. Last reported year showed 816 cases with a mortality rate of 35%. (#savemyrodenticides)

I haven’t mentioned anything about agriculture and food crops and the impact that insects carrying diseases can have on those. That’s because I’m not an agricultural entomologist (#savemyvegetables). Feel free to google it.

That’s the news round-up from the past few months, mostly focusing on the US. I need to stress this: these are all recent! If you think pest control is just “killing pests”, it is so much more and is going to be more and more important in the coming years to help protect people’s health. The next pandemic outbreak could be spread by insects. We can help with your pest control service, making it more effective and more preventative, contact us!


Urban entomology consultants

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