When we talk about killers in the animal world, the likeness and image of a nuisance such as a mosquito may not readily come to mind. However, you may have to rethink that notion. According to The Smithsonian, mosquitos have killed (and is killing) more humans than a city full of Jeffrey Dahmers. Okay, maybe not the exact same comparison but you get the idea.
Now, if you want the real numbers, here they are:
- An estimated 725,000 people are killed each year by mosquitoes. On the other hand, human murder victims (apparently by other humans) top at around 475,000 annually.
- The worst of the mosquito-borne diseases is malaria, which takes the lives of 600,000 people a year on average.
- Mosquitoes account for 17% of the world’s estimated burden of infectious diseases.
Yes, only a small fraction out of 3,000 species of mosquitoes are dangerous to humans but that does not, in any way, mean that we are safe. The WHO organization warns that half of the human population is currently in danger of contracting a mosquito-borne disease.
In the United States, the three most common and most dangerous species are from the Culex, Anopheles, and Aedes genera.
Culex mosquitoes are active during the warmer months and tend to hibernate during winter. They stay within a couple of hundred yards from where they hatch and generally prefers birds over people in their bite meter. The Northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, is the main carrier of the West Nile virus.
The Anopheles mosquitoes prefer cleaner areas such as swamps and rice fields. When it comes to victims, they generally like feeding on humans and cattle. They are the carriers of malaria which they transmit through their saliva when they bite.
Aedes mosquitoes can often be found on old tires, tree holes, and overflown ditches. The members of the Aedes family are persistent and one species, Aedes vexans, maybe the most likely culprit if a bite becomes too unbearable. The Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albupticus, is the carrier of the virus that causes dengue fever and eastern equine encephalitis while Aedes egypti also transmits dengue as well as yellow fever.
Why Mosquitos Are Dangerous
We obviously don’t want flies AND mosquitoes around, but if you can choose to allow just one to bite you, you are better off letting the fly do it. Why?
Dr. Lyle Peterson, the director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Colorado, explains: “Mosquitoes spread disease-causing agents, not the disease. They bite people to consume blood. Feeding allows the mosquito to produce eggs. When feeding, a mosquito pierces the skin like a needle and injects saliva into a person’s skin. This allows the disease-causing agent – for example, the Zika virus – into the site.”
On the other hand, flies do not inject saliva when they bite people-- which is very rare, if at all-- that’s why fewer pathogens are spread through fly bites.
Entomologist Krijn Paaijmans also explains why mosquitoes are a dangerous force to be reckoned with. The Aedes egypti mosquito has proven to be very adaptable, able to adjust to urban environments while the Anopheles has changed their eating habits to avoid bed nets and traps as well as developing resistance to insecticides.
“Mosquitoes are a difficult creature to deal with,” Paajimans said. “They are constantly avoiding anything we try to do against them”.
Ways To Protect Ourselves From Mosquitoes
Just glancing upon these statistics should have you worried but it’s not like we are utterly defenseless. And besides, most people who are bitten by these mosquitoes don’t get sick with anything. However, if you are living in an area (or going to a place) where mosquito-borne diseases are common, it’s important to know how you can protect yourselves.
Go light and long. Light and long clothing is the outfit of choice in mosquito-laden areas. If you have an insect repellent handy, spraying your clothes and exposed skin with it should also help.
- Get rid of stagnant or standing water. Many dangerous mosquito species prefer breeding in such places. If you can get rid of stuff like old tires and cans of still water, do so. Hanging out near these places is a bad idea.
Keep them out by using barriers. Mosquito nets, screens, wire mesh, hats, socks, bandannas, whatever works.
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