Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Vector-borne diseases: Small bite, big threat

Today’s guest blog from the Pan American Health Organization is in recognition of World Health Day which was celebrated on April 7. This year’s event focused on preventing vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Lyme disease. More than half the world’s population is at risk from such diseases, which are carried by mosquitoes, flies, ticks, water snails and other vectors.

Vector-borne diseases: Small bite, big threat
Insects like mosquitoes and ticks might have small bites, but their bites are a big threat. Some insects are known as vectors because they carry parasites — bacteria, protozoa, worms and viruses — inside them. With one bite, these vectors can transfer the parasites into the human body and the parasites can cause serious diseases.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is capable of transmitting both chikungunya and dengue virus. It bites most actively two hours before and after dawn and dusk. It is present in almost the entire American continent, including Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

Chagas disease is caused by a blood-sucking “kissing bug” and can lead to problems in the heart and intestine. In the United States, chagas disease is considered one of the neglected parasitic infections, a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for public health action. The Anopheles mosquito can transmit malaria.

These diseases affect millions of people in different countries and pose a big threat to people. Other vector-borne diseases like lymphatic filariasis and leishmaniasis can cause swelling in the legs or serious deformities, respectively. Most importantly, if the person does not seek medical treatment, all of these diseases can make you sick and lead to death.

Around the world, these vector-borne diseases are making millions of people sick, especially people who live in poverty. These vectors can spread in large cities and rural areas, where there are poorly constructed houses, lack of hygiene and sanitation, and lots of people migrating for work. Global climate change, by causing more rainfall and warm weather, has also expanded the places where these insects can grow and spread diseases.

There is no vaccine for most of these vector-borne diseases, and while there is treatment for some of them, prevention is the key. Integrated vector control can decrease the risk of disease transmission. This approach, used by national and local governments, includes implementing rational insecticide usage, surveillance and actions like improving access to safe water, regular waste collection services, basic sanitation, education, hygiene and adequate housing quality.

You also can play an essential role in infection prevention. You can wear clothing that acts as a barrier to bites, use mosquito nets and proper insect repellants and cover or eliminate containers where water collects where some of these vectors breed.

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