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Massachusetts Medical Society's Physician Focus

August 2012 Special Report

Mosquito and Tick-Borne Diseases


  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile virus are mosquito-borne diseases occurring with increasing frequency in Massachusetts.

  • While human cases of EEE and West Nile are rare, both diseases can cause serious illness, permanent disability, and even death.

  • Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria spread by infected deer ticks and can occur at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing.

  • Control efforts by state and local public health agencies are important, but the best protections are the actions individuals can take to reduce their risk of disease.

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Each year, the risks of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile virus and Lyme disease cause concern among residents and prompt response by public health officials. This is especially true this year, as threats of EEE and West Nile virus are above normal, and the incidence of Lyme disease, along with other tick-borne illnesses such as babesiosis, continues to be high.

Because of the increased threats of these diseases this year, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and HCAM-TV have collaborated in producing a special edition of Physician Focus to raise awareness of these illnesses and encourage residents to take appropriate steps to protect themselves.

This half-hour program features two experts from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: Alfred DeMaria, M.D., Medical Director of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases; and Catherine Brown, D.V.M., M.Sc., M.P.H., State Public Health Veterinarian. Hosting the program is Bruce Karlin, M.D., a primary care physician in Worcester, Mass.

Among the topics covered in this program by Dr. DeMaria and Dr. Brown are the dangers these threats pose to humans; the environmental conditions that contribute to these risks; why the risks of these diseases are greater this year than in previous years; control efforts undertaken by state and local agencies; who is most susceptible to getting these diseases; what you should do if you’ve been bitten by a tick; and the most effective steps individuals can take to protect against mosquito and tick bites.

Control efforts by state and local public health agencies, such as ground and aerial spraying, are important in reducing the risks, but they can’t eliminate the risks entirely, say the doctors. Both agree that the best protection comes from individual awareness, understanding, and personal behavior.

“It critical that people understand the risks and what prevents the risks,” said Dr. DeMaria. Dr. Brown adds that the actions an individual can take are most important. “Personal prevention remains the mainstay of protection,” she says.

Besides the discussion among the doctors, Mosquito and Tick-Borne Diseases contains two new public service announcements recorded by the guests. One focuses on mosquito-borne illnesses, and one on Lyme disease. The program is 30 minutes long and may be viewed by clicking on the icon above. The public service announcements, located below, may be viewed separately.

MMS/Richard Gulla

Massachusetts DPH/WNV

Massachusetts DPH/Tick

Centers for Disease Control/Lyme

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"Mosquito" PSA

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"Tick" PSA

From left: Bruce Karlin, M.D.; Catherine Brown, D.V.M.; Alfred DeMaria, M.D.
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