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Climate Change and Insect Vectors

Insects are being displaced by changing weather patterns, habitat encroachment and other human behavior. Dr. Subba Reddy Palli talks about the consequences climate change and human activity have upon the insect world and arthropod borne diseases.
Season 19 Episode 1 Length 26:31 Premiere: 10/01/23

About

Join host Dr. Wayne Tuckson, a colorectal surgeon, as he interviews experts from around the state to discuss health topics important to Kentuckians.


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About the Host

A native of Washington, D.C., Dr. Wayne Tuckson is a retired colon and rectal surgeon based in Louisville. For more than 20 years, he has served as host for Kentucky Health, a weekly program on KET that explores important health issues affecting people across the Commonwealth. A graduate of Howard University School of Medicine, Tuckson is a past president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society and is a recipient of the Community Service Award from the Kentucky Medical Society, the Thomas J. Wallace Award for “Leadership in Promoting Health Awareness and Wellbeing for the Citizens of Jefferson County” given by the City of Louisville and the Lyman T. Johnson Distinguished Leadership Award given by the Louisville Central Community Centers.

State Entomologist Offers Advice on Protecting Against Ticks and Mosquitos

Here are key takeaways from the season premiere of Kentucky Health, which examines arthropod-borne diseases. The guest is Subba Reddy Palli, PhD., Kentucky’s state entomologist and chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.

1) Research shows a drop in the number of arthropod species around the world.

Palli says several studies indicate a decrease in both the “number and abundance” of arthropod species in recent years. The phylum arthropoda includes classes of invertebrate animals such as insects (including bees and flies), arachnids (spiders), chilopods (centipedes), and many others.

Human activity is contributing to the change, Palli explains. This can occur through ongoing climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, or through habitat manipulation that transforms formerly wooded areas into residential neighborhoods, business parks, or farms. Pesticide use is another cause, he adds.

“With climate change, as temperatures change, the physiology, development, behavior, and life history of insects change,” Palli says. “The insects that can adapt to these changing conditions do better. The ones that are not able to cope with these conditions do not do so well, and even disappear.”

2) Ticks present the gravest threat as disease vectors in the U.S.

Palli says mosquitos have traditionally been considered more harmful to humans due to the history of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, and yellow fever. But the danger caused by mosquitos is largely confined to southern states, he explains, while ticks are present in most of the U.S.

Diseases transmitted by ticks include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis fever, and a red meat allergy known as alpha-gal syndrome. These are transmitted by the Lone Star tick, which is common in Kentucky. The deer tick, which is more common in the eastern states, can transmit Lyme disease, a chronic bacterial illness.

Much like mosquitos, ticks can infect humans when they attach to the skin and take a blood meal for nourishment. But unlike their airborne relatives, ticks can latch onto a human host for a much longer period of time.

“Ticks have to be on you for hours, if not days, before they take a full blood meal and transmit these pathogens,” he says. “So one good grace with ticks is you have some time.”

Palli recommends people check their body thoroughly for ticks as soon as they return from any sort of outdoor activity that lasts longer than a few minutes, especially if it takes place in wooded areas with piles of leaves, such as a hike. Ticks should be extracted from the skin slowly and carefully with tweezers, grabbing it by the head in order to remove its mouth.

“When you find a tick on you, don’t get freaked out,” Palli says. “The chances of it injecting a pathogen into you is not that high.” If bitten, he recommends getting a dose of antibiotics as soon as possible to combat any bacterial or viral diseases the tick may have transmitted.

3) A warming planet could increase threats of insect-borne diseases.

Palli says most research indicates that higher global temperatures will lead to a reduction in arthropod species. But he adds that a hotter climate can also cause an increase in disease-vector insects such as mosquitos.

“At the same time we are losing biodiversity of insects, there is also an increase in some insects – especially in temperate areas – that are disease vectors,” he explains.

Researchers are devising ways to manage the populations of these insects, Palli says, but learning and practicing personal habits to reduce exposure is still the best way to prevent diseases.

“You can use repellents, products that contain DEET (an active chemical ingredient), cover yourself, and walk on paved trails – and when you come back, remove any ticks and check yourself carefully,” Palli advises.

Related material: Insects: Most Are Good, but Watch the Bad

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Season 19 Episodes

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S19 E17 Length 26:43 Premiere Date 02/18/24

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S19 E16 Length 26:40 Premiere Date 02/11/24

Government Sponsored Health Insurance: Value and Promise

S19 E15 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 02/04/24

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S19 E14 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 01/28/24

Bariatric Surgery: Intervention for a Chronic Illness

S19 E13 Length 27:29 Premiere Date 01/21/24

Suicide Prevention: The First Step to Mental Health

S19 E12 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 01/14/24

Rural Healthcare: Crisis or Opportunity on the Horizon

S19 E11 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 01/07/24

Taste Not Waste: Making Nutritious Dishes from Leftover Food

S19 E10 Length 27:19 Premiere Date 12/17/23

Breast Cancer: Innovations Beyond Screening

S19 E9 Length 27:23 Premiere Date 12/10/23

Heart Failure: Prevention and Treatment

S19 E8 Length 27:23 Premiere Date 11/19/23

Better Cancer Screening: The Answer Is In the Blood

S19 E7 Length 27:25 Premiere Date 11/12/23

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S19 E6 Length 27:24 Premiere Date 11/05/23

Cannabis: The Hype, the Reality, and the Potential

S19 E5 Length 26:55 Premiere Date 10/29/23

Sleep Apnea: New Treatments

S19 E4 Length 27:14 Premiere Date 10/22/23

Senior Care: Better Health Care for the Golden Years

S19 E3 Length 27:16 Premiere Date 10/15/23

Pelvic Prolapse

S19 E2 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 10/08/23

Climate Change and Insect Vectors

S19 E1 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 10/01/23

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