Mosquitoes, their bites and the diseases they carry

Mosquitoes, their bites and the diseases they carry

Ah, mosquitoes. These pesky insects are a nuisance to many, while deadly to others. Mosquitoes are small, flying insects that belong to the family Culicidae. They are found all over the world, from the tropics to the arctic. During peak breeding season, they outnumber every other animal on Earth, minus termites and ants. When it comes to killing humans, no other creature even comes close, not even snakes (and definitely not sharks), to the mosquito—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Where are mosquitoes most common in the U.S.?

Mosquitoes can be found throughout the United States, but some regions have more of them than others. Mosquitoes thrive in warm and humid environments, so areas with lots of standing water and high temperatures tend to have more mosquitoes, as mosquito-mamas lay their eggs on the inner, wet walls of containers with water, above the waterline and prefer high humidity. Some of the states with the highest mosquito populations include Florida, Texas and Louisiana, as well as coastal areas of the southeastern and northeastern United States. 

What are the top 20 U.S. cities most common for mosquitoes (and their bites)?

This ranking is from Consumer Affairs, based on data from April 1, 2018 to March 1, 2019.

  1. Atlanta, GA
  2. New York City, NY
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Chicago, IL
  5. Houston, TX
  6. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  7. Detroit, MI
  8. Philadelphia, PA
  9. Charlotte, NC
  10. Raleigh-Durham, NC
  11. Phoenix, AZ
  12. Los Angeles, CA
  13. Boston, MA
  14. Miami, FL
  15. Baltimore, MD
  16. Richmond, VA
  17. Nashville, TN
  18. Tampa, FL
  19. Indianapolis, IN
  20. St. Louis, MO

Where are mosquito-borne diseases most common?

mosquito-borne-diseases

Mosquito-borne diseases are most common in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including parts of Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Oceania. These regions have suitable environmental conditions for mosquitoes to thrive and spread diseases, and often have limited resources and infrastructure to control mosquito populations and prevent disease transmission.

For example, malaria, a most serious disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, is intimately and harshly intertwined poverty. As T. H. Weller, a Nobel laureate in medicine, once said, "It has long been recognized that a malarious community is an impoverished community." And it's not just communities, but entire countries that suffer from the burden of malaria. In Africa, the poorest continent, malaria is especially unyielding. The only parts of Africa that are free of malaria are the northern and southern extremes, which happen to have the richest countries on the continent. It's not just Africa, either. India, a country with a large number of people in poverty, has a serious malaria problem.

When do mosquitoes bite?

Mosquitoes are most likely to bite during dawn and dusk, as this is because many species are most active during these times and seek out their blood meal from humans and animals.

It's interesting to note that it is only the female mosquitoes that bite, as this blood meal is of necessity for the development of their eggs. Male mosquitoes only feed on plant nectar and other sweet substances.

Which types of mosquitoes are most active when?

Generally speaking, mosquitoes tend to be more active during warmer months when temperatures are above 50 F. In the United States, different species of mosquitoes may be active at different times of the year, depending on the region. For example, in the southern states, mosquitoes can be active year-round, while in the northern states, mosquito activity is typically limited to the summer months. Some species, such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit diseases such as Zika and dengue fever, are more active during the day, while others, such as the Culex mosquito, which can transmit West Nile virus, are more active at dawn and dusk.

What viruses and diseases do mosquitoes transmit?

Mosquitoes are known to transmit a variety of viruses and diseases to humans, including:

  1. Malaria: A life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female mosquitoes (not their male counterparts) of the Anopheles species.
  2. Dengue fever: A viral infection that is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and can cause a high fever, severe headaches, joint and muscle pain and skin rash.
  3. Zika virus: A virus spread by the Aedes mosquito that can cause fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause birth defects.
  4. Yellow fever: A viral disease that is transmitted by the Aedes or Haemagogus mosquito and can cause fever, muscle pain and jaundice.
  5. West Nile virus: A virus that is spread by infected mosquitoes and can cause flu-like symptoms, fever and in severe cases, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
  6. Chikungunya: A viral disease that is spread by the Aedes mosquito and can cause fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache and rash.
  7. Encephalitis: A viral infection that can cause inflammation of the brain and is transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species.

According to WHO, malaria alone—a disease that greatly limits human potential—"results in more than 400,000 deaths every year," whereas " more than 3.9 billion people in over 129 countries are at risk of contracting dengue." Dengue, the most prevalent viral infection transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, is responsible for an "estimated 40,000 deaths every year."

What first led to the development of modern methods for controlling these diseases?

construction-of-panama-canal

Interestingly enough, the construction of the Panama Canal helped to lead the way in combating mosquito-borne illnesses. In the early 1900s, construction crews worked to construct a waterway through nature and nature aggressively fought back. The snake-infested jungle in which these crews worked, with an average temperature of 80 degrees and 105 inches of rainfall a year, provided an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes and, subsequently, a very deadly spot in the world in which to construct a channel. An article by Christopher Klein, published in History tell us that "Over the span of more than three decades, at least 25,000 workers died in the construction of the Panama Canal" whereas a further History article by Elizabeth Nix informs us that many of these deaths were "caused by yellow fever and malaria, diseases that the medical community at the time believed were caused by bad air and dirty conditions."

How do I get rid of and protect myself and my family from mosquitoes?

Here are seven tips to help in both getting rid of and protecting yourself and your family from deadly mosquitoes in mosquito-infested areas. Some of these tips, according to an article by the Center for Disease Control, were first implemented during the construction of the Panama Canal. 

  1. Eliminate standing water: Mosquitoes need standing water to breed and produce their larvae, so it's important to eliminate any standing water around your home, such as in buckets, flower pots and bird baths. This will greatly aid in keeping mosquitoes away from your home and yard. 
  2. Use a DIY mosquito repellent: Apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin, especially during peak mosquito hours. This can be for indoor or outdoor use.
  3. Wear protective clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks when spending time outdoors, especially in areas where mosquitoes are prevalent.
  4. Use mosquito nets: Use mosquito nets over beds, baby cribs and strollers to protect against mosquito bites. These are highly recommended by WHO for pregnant women and young children.
  5. Install screens: Make sure your windows and doors have screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
  6. Spray Six Feet Under: Use our home-safe, non-toxic, kill-on-contact spray to help get rid of mosquito populations that enter your house. Six Feet Under is a people-friendly and pet-friendly insect killer for both indoor and outdoor use.
  7. Keep your yard maintained: Trim shrubs and grass regularly and keep your yard free of debris to reduce potential mosquito breeding sites.

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