United States national parks attract >275 million visitors annually and collectively present risk of exposure for staff and visitors to a wide range of arthropod vector species ( most notably fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks) and their associated bacterial, protozoan, or viral pathogens. We assessed the current state of knowledge for risk of exposure to vector-borne pathogens in national parks through a review of relevant literature, including internal National Park Service documents and organismal databases. We conclude that, because of lack of systematic surveillance for vector-borne pathogens in national parks, the risk of pathogen exposure for staff and visitors is unclear. Existing data for vectors within national parks were not based on systematic collections and rarely include evaluation for pathogen infection. Extrapolation of human-based surveillance data from neighboring communities likely provides inaccurate estimates for national parks because landscape differences impact transmission of vector-borne pathogens and human-vector contact rates likely differ inside versus outside the parks because of differences in activities or behaviors. Vector-based pathogen surveillance holds promise to define when and where within national parks the risk of exposure to infected vectors is elevated. A pilot effort, including 5–10 strategic national parks, would greatly improve our understanding of the scope and magnitude of vector-borne pathogen transmission in these high-use public settings. Such efforts also will support messaging to promote personal protection measures and inform park visitors and staff of their responsibility for personal protection, which the National Park Service preservation mission dictates as the core strategy to reduce exposure to vector-borne pathogens in national parks.
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Vol. 50 • No. 2