The Rise of Vector-Borne Diseases
Insects were first shown to transmit human disease, or “vector-borne diseases,” in 1877. After their discovery, experts used this newfound knowledge to make global efforts in preventing and controlling the transmission of vector-borne diseases. By the 1960s, vector-borne diseases were considered to be controlled in all areas outside of Africa.
However, the past 50 years has seen a rapid resurgence in vector-borne diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that they account for 17% of all infectious diseases and are responsible for more than 700,000 global deaths annually. In total each year, mosquitos, fleas, ticks and other common insects are responsible for spreading diseases to more than a billion people.
While mass urbanization can partially account for the resurgence in vector-borne diseases, there are a number of other reasons, including:
The extreme temperature changes and altered precipitation patterns influence insect survival rates and the reproductive rates of pathogens. It also leads to insects like mosquitos and ticks having a wider geographic range. Warmer temperatures allow for extended breeding seasons, and increased rainfall and flooding help the tick population thrive and offer optimal conditions for mosquito breeding. Mosquitos are finding more viable areas to lay their eggs, and the warmer temperatures allow them to hatch more quickly.
International travel has exploded over the last 50 years. Air travel provides insects with a convenient mode of transporting pathogens and affords them near constant movement around the globe. Humans who are traveling around the world can bring previously unseen diseases to urban areas, exposing new populations.
Changes in Awareness Methods
When global efforts against vector-borne diseases were first made, they predominantly focused on preventive efforts. Over the last few decades, the public health strategy used has shifted to an emergency response method, meaning a problem is not necessarily addressed until action is required. Preventative actions and alternative approaches to vector-borne disease control must include training programs for healthcare workers, community-level prevention campaigns and an abundance of experts in the field of medical entomology.
Shortage of Medical Entomologists
The emergence of Zika in 2015 revealed that, as a nation, we were woefully unprepared for such a widespread outbreak, as evidenced by the massive shortage of trained medical entomologists that were able to respond. In the last 20 years, seven more tick-borne Lyme disease variations have been discovered, and cases are up 111%. There are simply not enough medical entomologists to address this.
The global rise of vector-borne diseases is predicted to continue, and professionals in the field of entomology are needed more than ever to help research and predict outbreaks and control and prevent their spread. If you have ever thought about working in the entomology field, now is the perfect time. The University of Florida has the No. 1 ranked Entomology and Nematology program in the world, according to World University Rankings, and offers online graduate programs that are entirely online with specializations in medical entomology.