Insect-Borne Illnesses Continue to Pop up in Missouri, Greene County Each Year

Jul 31, 2018

American Dog Tick
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

A 12-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that bug-borne diseases more than tripled across the U.S. from 2004 to 2016.  During that time, nine new bug-borne diseases were introduced.

Kendra Findley, administrator of community health for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said the most common tick-borne disease in Greene County is Ehrlichia.  They see around 15 to 20 cases each year.  Most tick-borne illnesses, she said, have similar symptoms.

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The 2nd most common insect-borne illness is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever with around 10 cases reported each year to the county health department.

While the public tends to hear the most about Lyme Disease when it comes to tick-borne illnesses due to the long-term symptoms it can cause, Findley said it's mostly seen on the east coast or in the northeastern U.S.  According to Findley, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services hasn't yet isolated the organism that causes Lyme Disease in the state.  While there is an organism in Missouri similar to Lyme Disease, it doesn't have long-lasting effects.  The only true cases of the illness here have been in people who had travelled to affected areas.  But she said, "I would assume at some point they will identify the organism that causes Lyme Disease in Missouri.  I would say it's only a matter of time."

According to Findley, while tick-borne illnesses in Missouri have good outcomes, they can make a person feel really sick for up to two weeks, so she recommends seeking medical treatment.  Some patients experience blinding headaches and fatigue.

"It can be pretty miserable," she said, "so, anytime you can get in and get an antibiotic that can shorten the duration or shorten the severity of your illness, I do think it's a good idea."

Some ways to avoid tick bites:  wear long pants tucked into socks, long sleeves and shirts tucked into pants if you’re going to be in tall grass.  Use products containing DEET and walk in the center of trails when you’re out hiking.

As far as mosquito-borne illnesses, Findley said the Zika virus isn’t an imminent threat, but it could become one in the future. 

"As we start to see just a general warming of our weather here in the United States, it's really curious.  We're starting to see some mosquitos start to migrate from different areas.  Like in Mexico, we're starting to see mosquitos slowly migrate northwards into the United States, and we're going to see diseases like Zika or Dengue slowly migrate into Texas, which is exactly what they've seen with Dengue and Zika, specifically," she said.

Greene County had three cases of Zika in 2016 and one case in 2017.  Those were in individuals who had traveled and had become infected in other areas, Findley said.

There are a few cases of another mosquito-borne illness, West Nile Virus, in Missouri every year, but Findley said the last case in Greene County was in 2008.

A good way to protect yourself against mosquito bites is to spray with an insect repellant containing DEET or other substances such as Picaridin, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for protecting yourself from mosquito bites.  Learn more here.