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PLNA e-News: Plants, Pests & Diseases

Tick, Mosquito and Flea Borne Diseases at All Time High

Tuesday, August 14, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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For an industry that spends most of its time outside, the increase in diseases caused by ticks, mosquitos and fleas should be a huge concern. Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which tracks disease incidence nationally, show that diseases from ticks, mosquitos and fleas almost doubled from 2015 to 2016, rising to 96,075 from 55,660, the latest year for which reporting data are available.

Actual Number of Cases Are Probably Much Higher

The number of cases could be even higher. For example, the CDC estimates that only about 10% of Lyme disease cases are reported.

What is causing this increase in insect borne diseases? The CDC points to several factors.

Ticks, Mosquitos and Fleas Like the Warmer Weather

First, is climate change. The U.S. has been having milder winters and warmer summers. The warmth and increased rainfall have created good conditions for these pests to thrive. Climate change has also allowed the range of insects once known to live only in tropical climates to expand northward.

Moving into Tick Country

Second, as the population grows housing development is pushing further into previously unoccupied areas, home to ticks, mosquitos and fleas.

Not Just Lyme Disease Anymore

Third, the sheer number of diseases carried by ticks, mosquitos and fleas is increasing at an alarming rate, some never seen before in the U.S. Your chances of getting a nasty disease from an insect bite is now much more likely. The CDC has identified sixteen diseases that are carried by just ticks, some much worse than Lyme disease. The CDC identified nine new germs and related diseases spread by ticks and mosquitos between 2004 and 2016.

Life Threatening Diseases

Many of these diseases can be life-threatening and take months from which to recover. For example, a friend of mine contracted ehrlichiosis this summer after he received a bite from a lone star tick while cutting his lawn. Although he removed the tick immediately, he began running a fever a few days later and had to be hospitalized. He now is unable to walk without assistance, is in constant pain and will be in rehabilitation for months.

Click here for a list of these sixteen tick-borne diseases and the ticks that carry them.


Mosquitos have long been recognized as a vector for the spread of diseases and is probably best known for carrying malaria, the bane of tropical regions. But as the range of certain species of mosquitoes has increased northward with climate change, so has the incidence of the diseases that they carry. Diseases such as zika and West Nile disease, unknown a few years ago, are becoming more common.


Fleas are not a large a threat to green industry employees, but they still carry some nasty diseases. You are most likely to contract a disease from fleas by contact with pets. The plague and cat-scratch disease are two of several diseases transmitted to humans by fleas.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Employees

Green industry companies should have in place a good training program for employees about how to avoid contracting tick and mosquito-borne diseases. Landscape employees are one of the most vulnerable occupational groups for contracting tick and mosquito-borne diseases.

The CDC recommends:

  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Treat items, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
  • Find and remove ticks daily from yourself.

The CDC has two excellent resource pages with more information about how to protect yourself and your workers. Click here for the page on ticks and here for the page on mosquitos.

EPA has a webpage that will help you select the insect repellant that is best for you. Click here for that page.

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