The Pentagon’s Answer to Malaria, Lyme Disease Cases: ‘Bugapalooza’

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World War II “Fight the Peril” posters used to raise awareness of malaria prevention among soldiers. (Courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine)
World War II “Fight the Peril” posters used to raise awareness of malaria prevention among soldiers. (Courtesy National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Dengue fever, Lyme disease, malaria, Chagas disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Zika.

These diseases and more are carried and transmitted by bugs. All inflict serious symptoms and can have potentially debilitating consequences. And all, the Pentagon wants you to know, are preventable.

The Defense Health Agency kicks off its second annual "Bug Week" on Saturday with an event at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, highlighting the roles mosquitoes, ticks, flies and other pests play in the ecosystem. "Bugapalooza" is designed to raise awareness of illnesses caused by these bugs, prevention, treatment and the contributions the Pentagon has made in fighting vector-borne illnesses across the globe.

Bug Week was conceived last year to educate the military community and the public about diseases carried by pestilence at home, in garrison or out in the field. As part of the effort, Defense Department public health officials, entomologists and researchers will spend the week showcasing the dangers and benefits bugs bring to the Earth.

"Bug Week is an exciting and important campaign for the Military Health System [MHS]. We have a unique opportunity to educate beneficiaries about bug-borne illnesses in a fun and creative way, while simultaneously building an appreciation of bugs," Richard Breen, MHS Director of Communications, said in a statement.

From 2010 to 2017, the DoD counted 1,436 cases of vector-borne diseases and 9,203 possible or suspected cases among active-duty and reserve personnel. That number included 721 cases of Lyme disease, 346 cases of malaria, 86 cases of dengue and 78 cases of chikungunya, according to the Defense Health Agency's February 2018 Medical Monthly Surveillance Report.

Among the general public, vector-borne diseases affected more than 640,000 people between 2004 and 2016, the most common being Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, West Nile virus, dengue and Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bug Week, which runs from July 27 to Aug. 2, is an opportunity to showcase the U.S. military's role in researching diseases carried by pests, preventing and treating them, officials said.

With the world growing warmer, bug-borne diseases are spreading and outbreaks are becoming more frequent, while good insects, such as bees, are becoming endangered. Bug Week is a major communications effort to raise awareness of the need for individuals to protect themselves and their families to prevent bites, discourage infestations and create environments attractive to beneficial bugs such as bees and butterflies.

"We want people to understand that insects are both our friends and our enemies," said Andrea Schierkolk, public programs manager at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

"Bugapalooza," scheduled for July 27 from 10 a.m. to noon, will feature activity stations at the museum focused on bug-related subjects ranging from mosquito-borne illnesses and fly species, to the biting habits of bed bugs and dangers of kissing bugs, to the devastation insects can wreak on museum collections.

For those who can't make Saturday's event, the museum has a number of permanent exhibits that feature bug-related topics, including public health posters from World War II that highlight the problem of infestations at military camps, a display on bot flies and a leg -- a real leg from an 1894 amputation -- with elephantiasis, a vector-borne disease caused by a roundworm carried by black flies.

It also has a microscope that belonged to Army Maj. Walter Reed, who famously proved that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes.

"Bugapalooza" and Bug Week also will emphasize the good things about bugs, including the beauty and benefits of pollinators and the role bugs play in the food chain, Schierkolk said.

"There's going to be something for everyone," she said.

The Defense Health Agency has a number of fact sheets on insects, ticks and their associated diseases on its Bug Week website.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine is located at 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring, Maryland.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Miltary.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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