As anyone who lives in a warmer, more humid climate can definitely tell you, mosquitoes are truly the worst. Those big itchy welts they leave behind can almost be enough to drive a person crazy, especially those who seem to attract more mosquitoes than others. However, the bigger problem is that mosquitoes can carry a huge number of diseases that prevent major health risks to humans and livestock.
Some mosquito-borne illnesses kill thousands of people a year, while others carry the potential to cause birth defects and numerous other serious health problems. To help combat the problem, billions of dollars are spent on mosquito control around the world every year in an effort to combat these and other deadly diseases.
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus is a type of encephalitis, which originated in Africa and was eventually spread outward. The virus first appeared in North America in 1999 and has since become a huge problem in the majority of US states, especially those in the southeastern part of the country. The virus begins its life in birds, which then pass it on to mosquitoes that can then infect humans and other mammals.
West Nile typically causes a large number of horse deaths each year, and the majority of states see at least a few human deaths each year attributable to the virus. Symptoms of the virus typically resemble the flu, except that they usually last for a month or two. There is currently no vaccine available to treat the infection.
Zika is an extremely scary virus that we’re just starting to learn more about. The disease can potentially lead to microcephaly, a major brain and neurological defect that develops while in the womb and typically results in death. Zika seems to be quickly spreading out, and the first cases have been reported in the United States. Judging by the rapid rate of its spread, it is likely that Zika could become a huge public health problem in the near future.
Other Forms of Encephalitis
North American mosquitoes can also carry a range of other encephalitis diseases, including Lacrosse encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, Eastern Equine encephalitis and Western Equine encephalitis. All of these are generally quite rare, with less than 100 reported cases of each occurring annually in the US. However, all of them can be transmitted to humans and have the potential to cause long-term illness, neurological problems and even death. No effective human vaccines are available for any of these diseases, although there are horse vaccines for some of them.
Malaria is by far the deadliest mosquito-borne illness, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths each year. Luckily, those living in North America don’t have to worry, unless they travel to one Africa, Southeast Asia or other places where it is endemic. However, minor outbreaks of malaria have occurred in the US in the past, but these were eradicated through strong, effective mosquito control measures. There are currently several malaria vaccines in the works that may be able to help finally reduce the huge health risk malaria poses to millions of people around the world.
Once limited to more tropical areas, dengue has spread to the southern United States over the past 20 years or so. After seeing its first case in 2009, Florida has started seeing dengue occurring with increased frequency every year. The majority of cases are not fatal. However, dengue causes those infected to experience extreme pain and discomfort.
As you can see, mosquitoes are much more than just a minor annoyance as every mosquito bite carries with it the potential for infection. Therefore, it is important that every homeowner take steps to rid their property of potential breeding grounds. As well, excessively hot and humid areas need to take additional steps such as spraying, as this is the only way to effectively manage the problem.