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Missourians "Ticked Off" About Pests, Climate Change

Warmer, wetter summers and shorter, milder winters have put the population of ticks and mosquitoes on the rise, which also increases the threat of illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS
Warmer, wetter summers and shorter, milder winters have put the population of ticks and mosquitoes on the rise, which also increases the threat of illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS
June 30, 2015

ST. LOUIS – If you're feeling particularly bugged by bugs this summer, you're not alone. Environmental experts are calling for action to address the climate-driven rise in ticks and mosquitoes, which raises the threat of insect-borne illnesses.

Brian Nauert, president of Bugs By Brian, has been in the pest control business in St. Louis for more than 25 years. He says he's never seen the mosquito and tick population as "out of control" as it has been in recent years, and he believes changes in climate are to blame.

"The nymphs are appearing about a month earlier now in the spring than they did 20 years ago," he says. "We have had unusually warm winters, not enough to kill off any of the eggs, and their populations and the numbers have just exploded."

The Obama administration calls climate change the "biggest environmental and public health challenge of our time," and stresses that reducing carbon pollution will save both lives and money. But House Republicans are set to hold two votes on bills that would scale back or block emission controls on power plants. Missouri is in the process of developing a state strategy to move away from dependence on coal.

Sierra Club volunteer Carolyn Amparan of Columbia has spent years battling two tick-borne illnesses: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. Amparan says she was robbed her of her ability to work, socialize and enjoy all the activities Missouri has to offer, and is sharing her story to help raise awareness about how devastating these illnesses can be.

"The symptoms just gradually got worse over the years," she says. "I started having problems with being able to find the right word when I was talking, and eventually developed neurological symptoms."

Amparan adds the rise in ticks and mosquitoes, and the illnesses they can carry, is a large-scale problem which will require large-scale action to combat.

"The changing climate is allowing them to spread, and now they've spread into parts of the country and Canada where they never were before," she says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 1,200 reported cases of Lyme disease in Missouri between 1999 and 2013. The state also had 519 reported cases of West Nile virus during that time.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO