Diseases from mosquitoes are increasing worldwide. No living creature has claimed more human lives than these menacing insects — and in recent years, their threat has spread in dark, twisted ways. Every year, over one million people die from diseases spread by mosquitoes, and millions more suffer from mosquito-borne illnesses. Medications that once treated diseases like dengue fever are no longer working as effectively, especially if you’re infected for the second time, which is much more serious.
There are 3,500 different species of mosquitoes buzzing around the world. Of these thousands, there are six species of mosquitoes that are primarily responsible for spreading the most dangerous diseases. Three out of six of these mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of the Zika virus.
These days, the world is all abuzz with fear of the Zika virus, especially with recent reports of the virus in South Florida, Texas, and Washington, DC. Women who’ve spent any time in those areas are now scared to get pregnant, fearing babies with Zika’s infamous birth defects. The panic has spread to disproportionate levels. Large areas of the United States have been sprayed with toxic fumes to combat the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, resulting in the death of millions of honeybees. As the U.S. government pours $81 million into research for a Zika vaccine, there’s more and more evidence that there’s no real link between Zika and microcephaly.
The link between knowledge and safety, however, is undeniable. The various species of mosquitoes can be distinguished through unique physical traits, the areas they populate, and the hours they bite, and so much more. In short, there is a pattern to their deadliness.
Disease From Mosquitoes And 6 Mosquitoes To Look Out For
The following are six of the deadliest types of mosquitoes (plus diseases from mosquitoes to be aware of).
- Yellow Fever Mosquito (Aedes aegypti)
More commonly known as the Yellow Fever Mosquito, the Aedes aegypti thrives in tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates. It is a close relative of the Asian Tiger Mosquito. In the U.S., these mosquitoes are commonly found in southern states, from California in the West to New Jersey in the East. They’re easy to spot, because they are large mosquitos with long white legs, which you can visibly see. They actually resemble a fly more than a mosquito.
The Aedes aegypti is a known carrier of yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya,and the Zika virus. Although the chances of getting dengue increases during the daytime while one is outdoors, the A. aegypti is active and can bite at any time of the day. They primarily feed on people and typically breed in dark indoor environments where the temperature is less prone to drastic changes.
- Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus)
Considered by experts as the most aggressive species of mosquito, the Aedes albopictus is easily distinguished by its stark black and white bands. It is a species that has initially thrived in forests but has learned to adapt in more urban environments.
Since the 1980s, batches of this intrusive insect have invaded the U.S., beginning in the East Coast. The Asian Tiger Mosquito is known to be a carrier for several debilitating afflictions. Diseases from mosquitoes including the West Nile fever, dengue, yellow fever, encephalitis, the Cache Valley virus, Chikungunya, and the Zika virus.
The Asian Tiger is unique as it is is more active during daylight hours than at dusk and nighttime. It is also drawn to carbon dioxide, sweat, and dark clothes. Although its general prey is people, animals such as dogs, deer, and squirrels are not immune to its bite.
These mosquitoes are easy to spot because they are black with conspicuous white stripes — hence the “tiger” name. Along the length of their back, runs a distinctive single white stripe.
- Malaria Mosquito (Anopheles gambiae)
Also referred to as the African malaria mosquito, the Anopheles gambiae is found in various countries throughout Africa. None of the Anopheles species can be found in North America. The African malaria mosquito claims approximately 440,000 lives each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are roughly 430 subspecies of the Anopheles mosquito. Approximately 30-40 are considered suitable hosts for the malaria virus. One of them is the Anopheles gambiae. This deadly pest is considered one of the most efficient vectors for malaria. Although some malaria-carrying vectors can bite both humans and animals, the A. gambiae is known to prefer human blood.
Besides being a host for the malaria virus, members of the Anopheles complex are also known vectors responsible for transmitting lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms, that is prevalent in Africa.
The malaria mosquito can be identified by its long palpi, or tasting organs, which are almost the same length as its proboscis (mouthparts). It rests on surfaces diagonally, with its head down and abdomen jutting into the air. It mostly feeds in the evening and prefers to lay eggs in freshwater ponds, streams and lakes.
- Southern House Mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus)
The Culex quinquefasciatus is found in the tropics and southern regions of countries with temperate climates. This includes North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. This vector is responsible for transmitting the West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, Murrey Valley encephalitis, Ross River virus, Kunjin, Wuchereria bancrofti, Zika virus, and avian malaria. It is also a known carrier of dog heartworm and fowl pox.
The brown, medium-sized pest commonly feeds during the night and will bite throughout the evening. It is known to feed on both mammals and birds. The Southern House Mosquito is capable of transmitting the disease to mammals from infected birds. Individuals infected with lymphatic filariasis exhibit extreme swelling of their extremities and genital damage.
- Haemagogus Leucocelaenus
The Haemagogus leucocelaenus dwells deep in the forests and mangroves of Africa and Central and South America. In North America, mosquitoes of this species have been found as far as the south of Texas. They are commonly found hidden in the cavities of trees, small stagnant pools of water, and rock holes. These mosquitoes are characterized by their colorful but metallic sheen. They tend to live longer lives than most mosquitoes, and consequently can transmit viruses for longer periods of time.
Diseases from mosquitoes like these are Yellow fever, Mayaro, and the Ilheus virus. The Haemagogus leucocelaenus feeds on both humans and primates, and they can transmit viruses between both species. Between 1989 and 2008, approximately 546 cases of yellow fever were reported in Brazil. Out of this amount, 241 cases were fatal.
- Tree Hole Mosquito (Ochlerotatus triseriatus)
The tree hole mosquito or Ochlerotatus triseriatus is another species that transmits deadly disease to humans. Formerly referred to as the Aedes triseriatus, this black mosquito features white spots along the sides of its abdomen and thorax. It is a species commonly found in the United States with rare sightings in parts of Europe. Compared to other species of mosquitoes, the Ochlerotatus triseriatus is a hardy species. It can lay eggs that can survive the cold winter season.
When it comes to transmittable diseases from mosquitoes, the Ochlerotatus triseriatus is a known carrier for the La Crosse virus and the West Nile virus. Lab experiments have shown that the tree hole mosquito is also a viable vector for a host of human arboviruses. Similar to the Asian Tiger mosquito, it can feed during the day. As it can bite both humans, chipmunks, squirrels, and similar rodents, the tree hole mosquito can easily transmit diseases between humans and animals.
Adult tree hole mosquitoes are very small and dark, with brilliant white bands on their legs.
Ways To Steer Clear Of Diseases From Mosquitoes
According to Michael Fenserstock, founder of Aromaflage, an extremely effective natural bug repellant:
Mosquitoes of multiple variations can be found throughout the world. Clearly, tropical climates have more of an abundance of mosquitoes than do colder climates. These nearly invisible killers are clearly very dangerous. However, traveling to, and living in, warm climates is part of life for most people. Being prepared with a tested and effective insect repellent is critical to one’s health. There are natural and DEET-based products out there that work as long as they are applied properly and often.
There are numerous reasons to opt for natural bug repellent over DEET and other chemical products. When the threat seems so large, many people naturally think that chemical repellents are the only answer. But research points otherwise. One study found that cinnamon leaf oil is more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET. The National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides also lauds the oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, and other herbal extracts and essential oils.
What’s more, DEET’s toxicity is no joke. One study found 25 percent of the subjects exposed to DEET experienced negative health effects including rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and poor concentration. Another study at Duke University found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure led to diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes.
If you are in mosquito-dense territories, make sure you stay as clean as possible. A study back in 1999 found that mosquitoes are attracted to old sweat. Also, the best move to make in your home territories to avoid mosquitoes (and disease from mosquitoes) is to get rid of potential mosquito breeding areas. Mosquitoes love stagnant water. If you have standing water near your house, get rid of it.
Fenserstock adds, “Mother Nature is powerful and must be respected. You can try to limit your exposure by wearing light clothing and covering your skin. We also recommend sleeping with mosquito netting over one’s bed.”
Where The Frenzy Takes Us: GMO Mosquitoes And More
Just this past month, two new species of disease-carrying mosquitos, Aedeomyia squamipennis and Culex panocossa, were reported in Florida, a state which has been battling the spread of the Zika virus and dengue fever. The new species their eggs on water lettuce, which is one of the most invasive plants. Scientists are working on says to trap these mosquitoes, but they haven’t been met with much luck.
As fear and frenzy brews,GMO mosquitoes taking center stage. First, there were experiments with GMO mosquitoes that were infertile, to cut down mosquito populations that spread the disease. Now, the focus is on making mosquitoes immune to disease, which has been successful, so far, with dengue fever.
Meanwhile, widespread spraying of insecticides is taking its toll across the world. A recent article in the Wallstreet Journal reported that the world is running out of effective insecticides, because of high costs and low rewards of Zika elimination.
Let’s hope we can all find more holistic approaches to steering clear from mosquito-borne diseases.
Linda Miriam Aziz-Zadeh is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about preserving the natural beauty and wonder of our bodies, this planet, and the world. She is the cofounder of Crunchy Buzz, a digital wellness marketing firm that serves the health and wellness industry.
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