Zika, Lyme are on the rise — here’s how to protect yourself from insect-borne illnesses


You may find yourself slapping your forearm or shoulder more than usual this year to ward off insects. That’s because not only are those mysterious welts and marks from bug bites painful, they increasingly come with the threat of disease, according to a recently published analysis from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The CDC analyzed 12 years of data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System that shows more than 640,000 people have been stricken with diseases transmitted by bites from mainly three types of insects — mosquitoes, fleas and ticks — during that period.

Lyme, Zika driving increase in insect-borne disease in U.S.

As large as the numbers are, the agency said in a press release this week that it’s certain that there are many more cases. “Many infections are not reported or recognized, so it is difficult to truly estimate the overall cost and burden of these diseases,” the release notes.

Among the findings is that tick-, mosquito- and flea-borne illnesses have tripled from 2004 to 2016. Additionally, “seven new germs spread through the bite of an infected tick were discovered or recognized in the U.S. as being able to infect people,” the Atlanta-based health institution said.

Mosquito-borne diseases have exploded as well, the agency reported, with most of it coming from the Zika virus that first emerged in earnest in 2015. And most states are woefully unprepared for the onslaught, according to Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Contributing factors include longer and hotter summers experienced across the United States in recent years as well as the relative ease of travel. “All of these diseases are basically a plane flight away,” Petersen told NBC News.

The proliferation of insect-borne diseases doesn’t mean that we’re helpless. Here are some ways we can protect ourselves and others from bugs.

How to protect yourself from bug-borne diseases

  • Dress for success: If you know you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period, wear long sleeves, pants and thick socks.
  • Know where to go: Traveling abroad? The CDC offers destination-specific health risks and recommendations on their Travelers’ Health website.
  • Get help if you’re sick: If you’re far from home and find yourself feeling ill after being bitten by an insect, if you can go online, visit the CDC’s Find a Clinic webpage for help in finding a travel medicine clinic close by.

Closer to home, there are some things you can do to stave off those pesky insects:

Let us spray: What to look for when shopping for insect repellent

When it comes to spray to keep the bugs away, Consumer Reports tested different insect repellents and found these three to be most effective:

  1. Total Home (CVS brand) Woodland Scent Insect Repellent (6 oz is $5.99)
  2. Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII Dry (2.5 oz is $3.48 at Walmart)
  3. Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (4 oz is $4.99 at Amazon)

Preventative measures like yard treatments are also an option. Don’t want to hire a professional? Try your hand at DIY pest control. Here’s what Clark Howard Radio Show producer Joel, who has saved big money doing it himself, says on the subject:


“After a bit of research, I found out that I can buy the same spray (safe for children and pets) that the pros use and do my own bug zapping. And in my case, I’m pretty sure that I am now using better stuff than my former pest control company.”

Here’s how to get started.

RELATED: With buggy weather in the air, here’s how to kickstart your pest control

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