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Insect-Borne Diseases

Insect-borne diseases are illnesses transmitted to humans by insects. Some of these illnesses are rare and deadly, such as bubonic plague, and some are common and more of a nuisance, such as lice (pediculosis).

Most insect bites cause illnesses in which the symptoms are limited to the skin. Examples include scabies, head lice (pediculosis capitis), and public lice (pediculosis pubis). In these cases, the insects are not infected with any bacteria or virus, but the bite of the insect itself causes an itchy rash on the affected area. For example, in the case of head lice, the affected person experiences an itchy scalp. These are contagious from person to person and can be avoided, but the illness is rarely more serious than the symptom of itch. A doctor can distinguish among these diseases and can prescribe advice and treatment.

More rarely, insect bites cause serious disease. These serious insect-borne diseases occur when the insect is infected with a bacteria or virus and transmits that to a human via a bite. The insect can be a mosquito, as in yellow fever or dengue fever; a flea, as in bubonic plague; a tick, as in Lyme disease; or a louse, as in trench fever. These illnesses tend to occur in specific geographic areas or under specific circumstances. For example, mosquito-borne illnesses tend to occur in tropical regions. Trench fever occurs among people who live in close quarters and who have poor hygiene. Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks in temperate, wooded regions, such as the northeastern United States. Bubonic plague is found worldwide in areas infested with rats, as the particular flea that transmits the plague is a rat flea.

The best way to avoid contracting an insect-borne disease is to be aware of travel recommendations if traveling and to discuss your concerns with your doctor.

Best Matches - Click a disease below to see additional images and learn more.
Bubonic Plague Bubonic plague is an illness caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. This bacterium is carried by a certain type of flea, commonly known as a rat flea, which infects humans and animals. Humans can get…
Lyme Disease Lyme disease is the result of infection with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is transmitted by infected ticks that also feed on mice and deer. The tick can be found attached to the skin in many…
Scabies Scabies is an infestation of the skin caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. Scabies is very contagious and spreads rapidly in crowded areas such as hospitals, nursing…
Trench Fever Trench fever is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Bartonella quintana, which is carried and transmitted to humans by the common body louse (a small, wingless insect that lives in the clothes of…
Yellow Fever Yellow fever is a viral illness caused by the bite of a mosquito carrying the yellow fever virus. Yellow fever received its name from the yellow discoloration (known as jaundice) to some patients' skin.
Head Lice (Pediculosis Capitis) Head lice (pediculosis capitis) are highly contagious, and the most prominent symptom of a head lice infestation includes intense scalp itching. The human head louse is a tiny insect that feeds on human blood. The…
Pubic Lice (Pediculosis Pubis) Pubic lice (pediculosis pubis), also known as crab lice or crabs, is a louse (a type of wingless, bloodsucking insect) that can live and multiply (infest) on skin that grows pubic hair. Pubic lice most commonly…
Dengue Fever Dengue fever is a viral illness passed to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. The disease is rare in the United States, with perhaps 200 cases occurring every year, but it is common worldwide, with up to…