Texas Bugs and the Diseases the Carry – What to Do?

Texas Bugs & Their Diseases

“Hey kids, be sure to put on bug spray at Field Day. We don’t want to get malaria!” – not something you hear in 2018.  But for hundreds of years in this country, malaria was actually pretty common. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the US government undertook a massive program (spraying millions of homes with insecticide) that malaria was eradicated. Just like that, it was gone.

What is Malaria Caused By?

How’d that work so well?  Malaria is caused by a parasite that lives in the mosquito. Scientists refer to the mosquito as a vector, and these types of diseases as vector-borne diseases.  Eliminate enough of the vector, eliminate the disease.

Lyme Disease, Nile Virus, & Zika Virus

So why does this matter now? We still have quite a few other vector-borne diseases. Ever heard of Lyme disease? It’s carried by ticks. In more recent history, North America has become acquainted with West Nile Virus and Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes.

Texas’ Climate is Susceptible to Bug-Borne Diseases

Texas is particularly susceptible with a warm climate and a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. (Incidentally, we also see a lot of typhus, which is transmitted by fleas). Texas doctors and scientists are becoming more vigilant for transmission of these bug-borne diseases.  For example, mosquitos in Austin and Houston recently tested positive for West Nile. When this happens, local officials can step up spraying efforts, and doctors are on the lookout for cases. Combine Texas’ exploding population with these insect-friendly qualities, and it’s no wonder the number of these cases is on the rise in recent years.  In fact, we wrote a detailed piece on West Nile previously.

So what do these diseases look like? Here’s a quick primer:

West Nile virus

  • Vector: Mosquitos
  • Symptoms:  Most show no symptoms. Some have fever, headache, aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash. Serious cases have high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, paralysis.
  • Geographic spread: Statewide
  • Last large outbreak: 2012, focused on the Dallas area

Chagas disease

  • Vector: Kissing bugs
  • Symptoms:  In the acute stage, fever, swelling around site of the insect bite. In the chronic stage, patients often show no symptoms for years but later develop heart rhythm abnormalities, a dilated heart, and a dilated esophagus or colon.
  • Geographic spread: North, central, and south Texas
  • Last large outbreak: Ongoing

Murine typhus

  • Vector: Fleas
  • Symptoms:  Fever, aches and pains, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, rash.
  • Geographic spread: North, central, and south Texas
  • Last large outbreak: The number of Texas cases more than doubled between 2008 and 2016.

Zika virus

  • Vector: Mosquitos
  • Symptoms: Many show no symptoms. Those who do experience fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain.
  • Geographic spread: Statewide
  • Last large outbreak: 2016, when there were 315 reported cases, including six locally acquired in the lower Rio Grande Valley. In 2017, the number of reported cases dropped to 54.

Dengue fever

  • Vector: Mosquitos
  • Symptoms: Severe headache, severe eye pain, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, low white cell count. Serious cases show severe abdominal pain, vomiting, red spots on skin, bleeding from nose and gums, vomiting blood, black stools, drowsiness, irritability, clammy skin, difficulty breathing.
  • Geographic spread: Gulf Coast and south Texas
  • Last large outbreak: Outbreaks in the U.S. date back to the 1700s; many involved tens of thousands of cases.

Chikungunya virus

  • Vector: Mosquitos
  • Symptoms: Fever, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, rash.
  • Geographic spread: Gulf Coast and south Texas
  • Last large outbreak: There were probably outbreaks in the 1800s throughout the southeastern U.S. involving tens of thousands.

How to Prevent Bug Diseases

Ok, so we get it. Bugs carrying diseases. More cases in Texas than there used to be. What to do about it?

  1. Don’t panic!  Even with these diseases on the rise, they’re not that common.
  2. Use insect repellent when outdoors.  Especially on the little ones 2 months and older.  Use a product that contains DEET but not more than 30%.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared that these are safe for kids older than 2 months. We recommend something like this.
  3. Keep area that may have standing water dry.  These are breeding grounds for mosquitos.

So, watch out for those vectors, Texas.  And if you find yourself getting ill after a bout with some mosquitoes, give Remedy a call.  We’ll get you checked out and on the mend.

Book an appointment today!