KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – You’ve heard of West Nile, Zika, Malaria. They are all diseases that come from mosquitos.
But there are other mosquitoes that carry viruses and infest the children of Tennessee and Kentucky. With longer stretches of hotter weather over the past few decades, the bloodsuckers are staying much longer.
With nearly three weeks of extra “mosquito days” per year based on weather data, two University of Tennessee experts told WVLT’s Ben Cathey that the longer season gives the insects more time to infect us.
“It’s the number one pediatric arbovirus in the country,” said Dr. Becky Trout Fryxell. An arbovirus is transmitted by some pests such as ticks, sand flies or, in our case, mosquitos.
Dr. Becky Trout Fryxell talks about something we hadn’t heard of until a few weeks ago: LaCrosse encephalitis.
“I have a five-year-old who is in kindergarten so he’s the perfect age to potentially catch the LaCrosse virus,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell.
While adults can get it, the effects on children are much higher – including brain swelling.
“Trying to learn how to talk again, maybe some mobility things, how to tie shoes and things like that,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell. “Potentially relearn how to walk.”
East Tennessee is a hotspot for LaCrosse. East Tennessee Childrens’ Hospital said it had dozens of cases in the past few years – 55 since 2017. And the errors linger longer in the fall.
“But it is very clear that it is September and we still have mosquitos,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell.
“And the more mosquitoes we have, the greater the potential for large-scale vector-borne disease outbreaks if they are introduced,” said Dr. Nina Fefferman.
Dr. Nina Fefferman is a mathematician at the University of Tennessee studying insect movements. and where diseases like the West Nile or the far worse eastern equine encephalitis might occur next.
Fortunately, “we haven’t had many cases,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell on Eastern equine encephalitis.
In 2019, there was a more than six-fold increase in EEE cases across the country. 19 people died.
“Unfortunately, Eastern Equine Encephalitis has a high death rate,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell.
Here we haven’t seen many skeeters with Eastern Equine in their systems. But Dr. Fefferman said the extra weeks were breeding ground:
“But if we don’t have many diseases that can be passed on to humans through mosquito bites, mosquito numbers are not necessarily the problem. Having a longer window for mosquitoes actually makes it worse than just having more mosquitos, “said Dr. Fefferman. “But it seems that with our warmer temperatures, the mosquito season is longer.”
“That is neither suitable for combating mosquitoes nor for combating diseases.”
Both scientists in Knoxville are trying to predict – as we will do with the weather – where the disease-causing mosquitoes will show up next.
“Just catch mosquitoes yourself and see how many test positive for diseases,” said Dr. Fefferman.
Even if you don’t feel the bite, experts say you should be careful.
“I don’t think people should overlook,” said Dr. Trout Fryxell. “We need to know it’s here.”
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