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Summer is back, and so are Mosquitoes

Summertime is for fun, relaxation, traveling-- and mosquitos.

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Summer: water balloons, heat, and summer assignments. Also, the product of combining the bad and the ugly– mosquitoes. It is common knowledge that mosquitoes thrive under warmer environmental conditions; warmth accelerates their biological processes which shorten their life span but also increase their overall activity and the rate at which they reproduce [1]. So with a few weeks into summer vacation, get ready and lets dive into a superficial but broad overview of these much hated organisms.

 

Now, lets remember why mosquitoes are so despised. It is not that difficult to figure out, their encounters with human beings generally involve molesting humans with their high-pitched buzzing, unauthorized suctioning of blood, and they do not leave without making you feel itchy and irritated. Maybe to add insult to the injury we can note that only female mosquitoes bite humans, and only a couple hundred mosquito species out of over 3,000 known mosquito species bite humans [2]. So to paraphrase that who is (arguably) everyone’s favorite Green brother, Hank Green: why do not humans, a species that can extinct others by pretty much just existing, do something about mosquitoes already? Well as mentioned before, just a portion of the mosquito population is undesirable; some methods may risk extincting species that are not only inoffensive to humans but also benign to the environment. Additionally, widespread use of repellents and insecticides does not only harm multiple insect populations but also the environment (and humans, in the process) [3]. So do we have to conform to our borderline parasitism relationship with these bugs? Maybe not, thanks to good old science.

 

In 2012, a team led by researcher Andrew Hammond altered the DNA of a mosquito species form the Anopheles genus; the study suggested that humanity can alter mosquito DNA to sterilize female mosquitoes and thus successfully carry on species-specific extermination. This proved to be of key importance since the species studied is a vector for the transmittion of the malaria virus (which can only be transmitted by mosquitoes)[4]. Taking into account that the World Health Organization found that malaria kills over 2 million people annually [5], it may be safe that the effects of mosquito bites cause more human casualties than any other animal. That aside, the introduction of this genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild is under discussion due to possible side-effects that could harm the environment. However, considering that this can be replicated with other mosquito species (such as members of the Aedes genus, responsible for dengue, Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, and a few other infections) [6] the scientific and medical communities can not help but to look optimistically and the future.

 

Now, what is it like to be infected by one of this mosquito-borne diseases? Most of these diseases have a few symptoms in common. These include: fever, rashes, joint pain, headaches, and nausea (and possible vomiting). No vaccine exists for any of these viruses, so symptomatic treatment is the only thing that can be offered to treat infected individuals; treatment is, however, vital for the well-being of the infected. Though rarely deadly, if any of these symptoms are observed in an individual, seeking immediate medical treatment should be an urgent matter (especially for Malaria and West Nile viruses which could me deadly and/or cause severe damage to organs). Now, to give the expected and actual audiences some peace of mind: while it is hard to prevent oneself to be bitten by any mosquito at any point, the chance that a mosquito bite (even by a vector species such as the Aedes Aegypti) will infect you with any disease is slim (especially when there is no nearby outbreak of a disease). Even infected mosquitoes may not transmit an illness if the virus has not been in the host for enough time to adapt and become transmittable (in the summer mosquitoes have shorter lifespans, so in hotter areas they may actually die before they are able to infect humans with the disease). Additionally, some viruses such as the West Nile Virus only cause 20% to 30% of afflicted individuals to develop symptoms [7].

 

Now, even though one is quite unlikely to suffer from a mosquito-borne illness, it is not a reason to avoid taking precautions and give mosquitoes ample room to bite. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends [8]:

  • To apply (preferably environment-friendly) insect repellents on oneself (specially during dusk dawn and also during the day, when mosquitoes are more active)
  • To evaluate homes and other closed structures to confirm and/or repair screen and other mechanisms that may keep mosquitoes out of buildings.
  • To wear pants and long-sleeve shirts to reduced exposed body areas when going outside.
  • To revise (and preferably empty) tires, buckets, and the such that may contain standing water (the ideal environment for mosquitoes, especially disease-transmitting ones, to lay their eggs) [9].

 

Thus, mosquitoes are to be taken seriously, but do not fret. In developed nations the slim (almost zero) chance of contracting a mosquito-borne illness should only cost you a few days of running around this summer. Also, scientists may one day find a cure for this illnesses or eradicate the transmitters. Therefore, cast those worries formulated while reading the article aside and get ready for those water balloon wars, a very hot summer, and some summer assignments that you really should not procrastinate on (but who are we kidding?). I’ll be leaving a link to that Hank Green video in the reference section because I know you are dying to see it now, and enjoy how much better he is at talking about mosquitoes than I am… ouch… my feelings and nerdy ego (I will also leave some links to interesting sources about climate change and mosquitoes. Spoiler alert: another way global warming ruins things for us).

Best wishes, enjoy your summer break fellow students and try to not succumb to the impending fall semester.

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References

 

[1] Doucleff, Michaeleen. “#CuriousGoat: Will Climate Change Help Ticks And Mosquitoes Spread Disease?” Published on NPR  on April 21, 2017.

 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/04/21/523066394/-curiousgoat-will-climate-change-help-ticks-and-mosquitoes-spread-disease

[2] The American Mosquito Control Organization Website.

https://www.mosquito.org/

[3] SciShow, (Hank Green Video) “What If We Killed All the Mosquitoes?” Published on YouTube on February 19, 2016.

[4] Stein, Rob. “To Fight Malaria, Scientists Try Genetic Engineering To Wipe Out Mosquitoes” Published on NPR website on December 14, 2016.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/12/14/504732533/to-fight-malaria-scientists-try-genetic-engineering-to-wipe-out-mosquitoes

[5] The World Health Organization Website.

http://www.who.int/whr/1996/media_centre/executive_summary1/en/index9.html

[6] Center for Disease Control  and Prevention Website. Last Updated on February 23, 2018.

https://www.cdc.gov/zika/vector/range.html

[7] Infection Prevention and You Website.

http://professionals.site.apic.org/bugs-and-outbreaks/mosquito-borne-illnesses/

[8] Center for Disease Control and Prevention Website. Last Updated on February 23, 2018.

https://www.cdc.gov/zika/vector/range.html

[9] Infection Prevention and You Website.

http://professionals.site.apic.org/bugs-and-outbreaks/mosquito-borne-illnesses/

 

-Ginty, Molly. “Climate Change Bites” Published on NRDC website on february 01, 2018.

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/climate-change-bites

-PestWorld. Copyright ©2018 National Pest Management Association

https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-articles/summer-pest-prevention/

-Atkins, Jeff. “Climate Change is Increasing Mosquito Habitat Ranges” Pushed on plos.org on September 30, 2017.

http://blogs.plos.org/ecology/2017/09/30/climate-change-is-increasing-mosquito-habitat-ranges/

-Center for Disease Control  and Prevention Website. Last Updated on February 23, 2018.

https://www.cdc.gov/features/avoid-dengue/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

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