Tick and mosquito illnesses have tripled. Here's how to protect yourself

From 2004 to 2016, the number of diseases caused by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas has more than tripled — and warmer temps may be partly to blame, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Studies show DEET or PMD (oil of lemon eucalyptus) are best for repelling blood-sucking mosquitoes. (Image: Rawpixel/iStock/GettyImages)

Over the span of 13 years, there have been more than 640,000 cases of insect-borne illnesses including Zika, West Nile and Lyme disease. In 2016 alone, there were more than 96,000 cases, compared to the 27,000 in 2004.

“The numbers on some of these diseases have gone to astronomical levels,” said the CDC’s director of vector-borne diseases Lyle Petersen, as reported by the New York Times.

In particular, the number of tick-borne diseases has more than doubled since 2004, with Lyme disease accounting for 82 percent. And that’s just the cases that are reported. In the past, the CDC has estimated that 300,000 people are infected with Lyme disease each year, though fewer than 40,000 of those cases are reported.

While Petersen said that multiple factors have contributed to the overall rise in bug-borne diseases (including an increase in overseas travel and reforestation projects), he noted that warmer weather has certainly played a part, according to Wired.

Petersen avoided pointing to climate change directly, but did say, “What I can tell you is increasing temperatures have a number of effects on all these vector-borne diseases.” A couple of those effects? Ticks have been able to spread to parts of the U.S. that were once too cold for them (think Maine and Minnesota), and hot spells can spark mosquito outbreaks. “The warmer it gets, the faster mosquitoes can breed and the higher the viral loads they carry around,” explained Wired writer Megan Molteni.

So short of becoming a total shut-in (which we’ve been tempted to consider), how can you avoid getting bit? According to a study published in the Journal of Insect Science, spray-on repellents containing DEET or PMD (oil of lemon eucalyptus) are your best defense against mosquitoes. You can check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool to help you find the the right product.

As for dreaded ticks, DEET on your skin can help, but you also need to “build a protective shield around yourself,” Dorothy Leland, director of communications for Lymedisease.org, told the New York Times. That means wearing a hat, bandana around your neck, long sleeves and pants, which you'll want to tuck into your socks. (Stylish, right?)

Leland also suggested opting for clothes pretreated with permethrin and spraying shoes with the insecticide. “There are studies that show that just protecting your feet can do an amazing job against ticks because they tend to be low to the ground, so their entry point is that they often climb up on your shoes and keep going and get to your skin,” she said.

And if you’re worried about ticks in your yard, Linda Giampa, executive director of Bay Area Lyme Foundation, offers this tip to LIVESTRONG.COM: “Fill toilet-paper tubes with permethrin-sprayed cotton and scatter them under the bushes around your yard. Local squirrels, mice and other rodents can take them back to their nests, killing the ticks they carry.”

Take that, you little blood-suckers!

What Do YOU Think?

Do you worry about the spread of insect-borne diseases? What do you do to stay safe? Let us know in the comments below.

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