There are many diseases that can be spread through insects such as mosquitos and ticks. While not a comprehensive list, here are some of the most common illnesses that you and your family might encounter – especially when traveling to at-risk areas.
Lyme disease is one of the most well-known diseases spread by insects. The first sign of this tick-borne illness is its signature ring-like rash around the bite. Symptoms could include fever, fatigue, headaches, and swollen glands. Complications such as facial nerve palsy, meningitis, and arthritis can also occur. In some people, Lyme disease can become a chronic condition causing symptoms such as fatigue, pain, and difficulty thinking. Proper treatment, usually with antibiotics, is important to prevent ongoing complications.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is another tick-borne illness that occurs in some parts of the United States, including Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. It is a bacterial infection spread by ticks. Symptoms include headaches, fever, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. A rash may also occur, which starts on the ankles and wrists, eventually spreading to arms, legs, and the rest of the body.
West Nile Virus
Most people have heard of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus. Although it sounds scary, most cases of West Nile Virus are relatively mild, with many people not even experiencing any symptoms. Mild symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches can also occur within two weeks of the infected bite. In some people, mostly older adults, more severe symptoms can occur related to the nervous system such as muscle weakness, high fever, seizures, and confusion. Watch for any of these severe signs as encephalitis or meningitis can occur in less than 1% of cases.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is spread through the saliva of mosquitos,with symptoms usually beginning 10-15 days following exposure via a bite from an infected mosquito.These symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and yellowing skin. Proper treatment is important to prevent complications and recurrences. Severe complications can lead to death, especially in young children. While malaria is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, a very small number of cases do occur in the United States each year.
While rare in the U.S., travelers to parts of Africa and South America need to be aware of this mosquito-spread disease. Symptoms range from mild to severe, including fever with aches and pains, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and fatigue. Some who are infected will even experience no symptoms. In most cases, those infected will improve after one week. In about 1 out of every seven instances, the disease will return with severity after a brief remission. These severe symptoms include high fever, yellowing skin (jaundice), bleeding, shock, and organ failure. Severe yellow fever can be fatal, and there is no treatment.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness occurring in tropical areas such as Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. While transmission in the United States is rare, current outbreaks are occurring in areas frequented by tourists such as the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Only about 25% of people infected will experience symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and rash. Most people will recover in about a week, but watch for signs of severe and life-threatening infection, such as stomach pain, severe vomiting, or vomiting blood. These symptoms of severe infection generally occur after the fever has passed and require a trip to the hospital for immediate care.
While there have been outbreaks of Zika in recent years, at the time of this writing, there are no countries with major outbreaks. In addition, there have been no reported cases of local mosquito-borne Zika transmission in the continental U.S. since 2017. Zika occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, such as Latin America. Most people infected will have no signs or symptoms. Some will have a mild fever, rash, and muscle pain. The highest risk of complications is in pregnant women with a possibility of miscarriage or fetal microcephaly. Check the CDC for updated transmission information and travel guidance.
The best way to protect your family from insect-borne diseases is by wearing insect repellant and long clothing when outdoors, and by researching applicable vaccines and preventative medications when traveling to countries where these diseases are common. Mosquito nets and other mitigation methods should also be used in high-risk areas. Avoid heavily wooded areas where ticks congregate, and be sure to shower and check your child’s body for ticks and tick bites after spending time outdoors. Talk to your child’s pediatrician today if you have a concern about the prevention or treatment of any of the illnesses above.