Authored by Revere Health

Protect Your Family From Vector-Borne Illness

August 16, 2018 | Family Medicine

A vector-borne illness is one that can be transmitted among humans and/or animals through an organism known as a vector. Mosquitoes, flies, ticks, fleas and other bloodsucking insects are common vectors. According to the World Health Organization, 17 percent of all diseases are vector-borne and cause more than 700,000 deaths each year. Most of these fatalities occur in tropical and subtropical regions. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that vector-borne disease incidents tripled in the United States between 2004 and 2016. Most of these cases are attributed to mosquito, tick and flea bites.


Common Vector-Borne Illnesses

Mosquito bites are responsible for most vector-borne disease cases in the U.S. Some of the most common illnesses contracted by a mosquito bite include:

  • West Nile virus, which has affected 48 of the 50 states as well as Asia, Europe and Africa. Most people who contract this virus do not show symptoms. Some have a fever and aches as well as fatigue that can take months to resolve. In severe cases, meningitis can develop.
  • Encephalitis, a virus that inflames the tissue of the brain and spinal cord. Some types of vector-borne encephalitis are common throughout the U.S., while others are relegated to the Gulf Coast, Atlantic and Great Lakes states. Emergency care is necessary to prevent complications that can include weakness, confusion, seizures and brain damage.
  • Zika virus, which can lead to a serious birth defect called microcephaly when pregnant women are affected. This disease is not native to the U.S., but women who are expecting a baby should avoid traveling to Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia.


Tips To Prevent Exposure

Although many vector-borne illnesses are dangerous, these simple tips can often prevent the bug bites that lead to exposure:

Wear bug repellent that contains up to 30 percent DEET whenever you’re outdoors, and have your children do the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics approves this concentration for infants and children older than two months.

Wear loose, light-colored clothing with long legs and sleeves to protect the skin. If you spend time in heavily wooded areas, treat your clothing and sports gear with permethrin. Use insect repellent as directed and reapply as needed.

Remove sources of standing water in your yard, no matter how small they are, as they serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. If you have water features in your landscape, such as bird baths, clean and empty them at least once a week. If you collect rain in barrels, cover tightly to protect insects from entering. Screen windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from getting inside.

Avoid traveling to certain areas that raise your risk of vector-borne illness. Talk with your doctor to find out whether vaccines are needed for your trip. Although shots are available to prevent malaria and yellow fever, they do not yet exist for the Zika virus. While staying in a high-risk area, sleep under mosquito netting and use netting on infant strollers and cribs.


Seek illness treatment in if you have any of the symptoms described above. Your doctor can diagnose vector-borne illness and recommend treatment to restore your quality of life.


Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages and providing thorough and timely healthcare for the entire family throughout all stages of life.



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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.