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Home News Big Threats Come in Small Animals
David Morgan
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Big Threats Come in Small Animals

April 16, 2014 - Zoonotic Diseases - Awareness

Remember that old saying, “Big things come in small packages”? It’s all about great things like engagement rings, but it turns out big trouble can come in small packages too. While many New Mexicans are aware how mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, there are many lesser known and equally troublesome illnesses that can from other small animals.

The World Health Organization this month marked its 66th annual World Health Day last week, with the theme this year being “Small Bite, Big Threat”. Their focus is on vector-borne (animal-transmitted) diseases, and when you consider what animal-transmitted disease occur worldwide, we may be lucky in New Mexico.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over half the world's population is at risk from vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Animals like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas transmit parasites, viruses, or bacteria between people or between animals and people.

For example, malaria is a vector-borne disease that is one of the most severe public health problems worldwide. The World Health Organization reports in 2012, there were 207 million cases of malaria and 627,000 people died of malaria worldwide. Then there’s other diseases like dengue, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, and onchocerciasis – the kind of stuff that’s unheard of in the United States.

Here in New Mexico, the greatest animal-transmitted threat is West Nile. New Mexico reported thirty-eight cases of West Nile Virus infection in 2013 – three of which were fatal. Our state has other, lesser known threats: for example, fleas potentially are infected with Plague. The state Department of Health reports 4 human plague cases last year. And there’s even more lesser known but potentially deadly diseases in the state where the infectious agent is carried by ticks.

“There are usually a few cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever every year in New Mexico and occasional cases of diseases such as relapsing fever and Colorado tick fever,” said Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian with the Department of Health. “The risk to you or your family of being exposed to one of these potentially severe diseases can be greatly reduced by taking preventive measures to avoid ticks and their bite.”

The New Mexico Department of Health recommends the following prevention measures to decrease your risk of tick borne diseases:

  • While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (Like right now: April through September) when ticks are most active.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and dead leaves.
  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • In areas where ticks are prevalent, use of repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing can give protection that lasts up to several hours.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.

Pet owners really have to keep an eye on their dogs. Turns out humans’ best friend and New Mexico’s most common household pet are very susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases. Vaccines are not available for all the tickborne diseases that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. For these reasons, it’s important to use a preventative tick product on your dog.

Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect your pet has been bitten by a tick.

For more information on animal-transmitted diseases, visit the Zoonotic Diseases section of our website.

Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact David Morgan at 575-528-5197 (Office) or 575-649-0754 (Mobile) with your questions.