Emerging health threats: Beware of ticks and mosquitos

Lowly ticks and high-flying mosquitoes are causing all kinds of health problems — and some can be fatal.

Living in Connecticut, most are aware of Lyme disease, which is caused from the bite of infected deer ticks.

The state has the largest number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As a result, residents have been warned to be on the lookout for the familiar tell-tale bull’s-eye rash that sometimes — but not always — accompanies Lyme disease.

Connecticut doctors also routinely order blood tests when a patient has flu-like symptoms that are commonly associated with Lyme disease.

But Lyme isn’t the only tick-borne illness out there. There’s also Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to contend with.

In addition, a new tick-borne infection was discovered by researchers at the Yale Schools of Public Health and Medicine in January that is caused by the same tick that causes Lyme disease.

People contracting tick-borne diseases can develop a wide range of symptoms, such as muscle aches, fever, skin rashes, joint pain, vomiting, and weight loss.

Blood tests can often, but not always, identify a specific tick-borne illness, and antibiotics are often prescribed for treatment.

Powassan virus

While deaths from Lyme disease are rare, some tick-borne diseases carry a high fatality rate.

According to published reports, in neighboring New York state, a 17-year-old boy from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died on Aug. 5 from complications due to the Powassan virus, a disease transmitted by ticks and similar to Lyme disease, only much more deadly.

Powassan hasn’t been reported yet in Connecticut, but has been reported in Maine and several other states.

The presence of the Powassan virus was found in ticks in the Hudson Valley region of New York, prompting U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to urge the CDC to devote more resources to Powassan and Lyme research, prevention and education.

In a statement issued by Mr. Schumer on Aug. 6, he said, “Already, Lyme disease is one of the least-understood illnesses plaguing residents of the capital region, the Hudson Valley and all of the Northeast. Now, with the emerging threat of new tick-borne illnesses like Powassan virus and antibiotic-resistant strains of Lyme, the need for more research is clear and compelling. We need to bring Lyme disease and the Powassan virus out of the weeds and better educate the public about how to keep themselves and their families’ safe,” Mr. Schumer said.

“That’s why I’m calling for a one-two punch to help boost research on treatment and prevention at the federal level: First, I am asking the CDC to look specifically at the Powassan virus, and second, I am pushing legislation that would provide the resources and organization to advance research and education into tick-borne illnesses,” the senator said.


Pesky mosquitoes are causing their share of problems, too.

On Aug. 21, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) closed Mt. Misery Campground and Horse Camp at Pachaug State Forest in the Chapman area of Voluntown and Griswold (on the eastern border of the state), after mosquitoes infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), were found there.

On Tuesday, Aug. 27, DEEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner announced those campgrounds would be closed indefinitely. The Department of Public Health has gone so far as to recommend communities around the forest curtail any outdoor activities scheduled after 7 p.m.

EEE is a rare but serious disease spread by adult mosquitoes. On average, there are five human cases of EEE reported each year in the United States. Approximately one-third of the people who contract EEE develop an inflammation of the brain and die from it.

EEE symptoms include fever, a stiff neck, and headache.

There have been no documented human cases of EEE reported in Connecticut. However, horses are also susceptible to EEE, and there have been outbreaks among horses in the state.

Because of the high fatality level associated with EEE, the state is planning to spray the Pachaug State Forest area to eliminate the mosquitoes, Mr. Gardner said.

“We continue to trap mosquitoes infected with the EEE virus and in the absence of any intervention, the virus is likely to buid up to higher levels in the coming weeks increasing the threat for human exposure,” said Dr. Theodore G. Andreadis, chief medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the mosquito trapping program. “We have no indication the EEE virus has expanded beyond the Pachaug State Forest at this time, as all other trapping sites throughout the state have tested negative for the EEE virus,” he added.

So far this year, 11 mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE, compared to nine for all of 2012.

West Nile

The Connecticut Department of Health (DPH) is also warning about West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne health threat.

On Aug. 6, the DPH reported West Nile-positive mosquitoes were found in 12 Connecticut towns: New Haven, Manchester, Bridgeport, East Haven, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Greenwich, Norwalk, Plainfield, Stamford, Stratford, and Westport.

A total of 48 mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus in Connecticut so far this year, compared to 234 last year. In 2012, one mosquito, trapped on Saunders Drive, tested positive for West Nile virus, the first in many years here.

“As expected, we continue to find mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus in more locations in lower Fairfield County and in other areas of Connecticut,” said Dr. Andreadis. “Over the rest of the summer and into early fall, we expect to see further build-up of West Nile virus with increased risk for human infection throughout the state, especially in densely populated communities where the virus is found.”

In 2012, there were 21 cases of West Nile virus infection reported in humans. None of those cases were fatal.

In 2013, there have been no reports yet of humans contracting the virus.

West Nile virus symptoms include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and nausea. West Nile can lead to death in 3% to 15% of persons who contract it, according to the DPH.