As summer approaches and beach trips are in the near future, are you or your loved ones nervous about swimming in the ocean because of sharks? According to the Bill Gates Foundation, you need to worry more about stepping into your own backyard! Accountable for over 700,000 deaths worldwide every year, mosquitoes are considered the world’s deadliest animal (Gates, 2014). By comparison, sharks are responsible for only 10 deaths per year. Even elephants are more deadly than sharks, but I cannot remember the last time I saw an elephant roaming the streets of North Carolina.
“No animal on earth has touched so directly and profoundly the lives of so many human beings. For all of history and all over the globe she has been a nuisance, a pain, and an angel of death. Mosquitoes have felled great leaders, decimated armies, and decided the fates of nations. All this, and she is roughly the size and weight of a grape seed.”
-Andrew Spielman, 2001
What makes mosquitoes so deadly? They are not only a backyard nuisance but also a public health menace. One of the first recorded cases of a mosquito-borne disease occurred in 1783 as the Revolutionary War was coming to an end. George Washington wrote to his nephew that, “Mrs. Washington has had three of the Ague & fever & is much with it – the better, having prevented the fit yesterday by a plentiful application of the Bark – she is too indisposed to write to you.” This so-called “Ague & fever” is better known today as malaria (Stewart, 2011). Eventually, both Martha Washington and President George Washington suffered from the disease. The treatment in those days was quinine, which was found in the bark of South American trees. Although quinine was widely used in Europe, Washington did not have access to it until later in life. This unfortunately led to severe hearing loss, a well-known side effect of quinine toxicity, during his second term (Stewart, 2011).
In addition to malaria, mosquitoes are also known for carrying other arboviruses, such as Yellow Fever, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika. Although treatable (except for Zika), these diseases are still widely transmitted throughout the world (CDC 2015, 2016). Zika has been the hot topic over the past couple years with its lack of medical treatment and its ability to cause Microcephaly in newborns (Rasmussen et al. 2016). In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reported that there was a total of 449 imported cases of Zika and 7 cases of Zika that were locally transmitted from Florida and Texas. Fortunately, North Carolina was responsible for less than 11 of those imported cases of Zika. This year it would seem that things are off to a better start with only 21 imported cases of Zika, none of which have been recorded in North Carolina (CDC 2018).
We have multiple mosquito species here in Alabama, but which ones should we be most concerned about? And how can we help prevent them? Container breeding mosquitoes are our worst enemies! Aedes albopictus, otherwise known as the Asian Tiger Mosquito, has a strong presence here in Alabama and breeds in water holding containers of any size – from as small as a bottle cap to as large as a bird bath. She is responsible for transmitting Dengue, Chikungunya and possibly even Zika. With her brilliant black color and distinct white stripes, she can be distinguished easily even with the naked eye. Unlike most mosquito species, the Asian Tiger Mosquito actively bites at dawn and dusk, making that morning or evening stroll with Fido the perfect time for her blood meals. If this pesky biter appears, it is time for you to start taking action! First you need to take a close look around the perimeter of your home: are there containers filling with water that you can empty? This can include plant potters, kiddy pools, tires, trash, bromeliads, bird baths, clogged gutters, basically anything that can hold a cap-sized amount of water needs to be emptied. By eliminating these breeding sites you can help lower the number of mosquitoes around your home (Rios and Maruniak, 2004)!
Aedes albopictus may be responsible for a number of diseases, but she is not the only species of mosquito to be concerned about! Another type of mosquito to watch for is Culex. These mosquitoes are responsible for a number of diseases such as West Nile Virus, Western equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. Even though Aedes albopictus primarily seek mammals and Culex mosquitoes seek birds, you cannot write off Culex because they too will find the occasional human rather tasty. What can we do to prevent Culex mosquitoes? Unlike Aedes mosquitoes, these mosquitoes breed in much larger bodies of water such as streams, lakes etc (Fox, 2018). Talk to your Cook’s technician about how to help control these pesky mosquitoes.
Although our nation’s first President was at a loss for managing mosquitoes, you are not. Why is that? Well, pest control of course!
-Kristen Stevens, BCE
Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2015. Chickungunya virus. https://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/index.html. Accessed: June 15th, 2016.
Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2015. Yellow fever virus. http://www.cdc.gov/yellowfever/symptoms/index.html. Accessed: September 7th, 2016.
Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2016. Zika Virus: case count in the U.S. http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html. Accessed: June 30th, 2016
Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2018. Zika Virus. http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html. Accessed: May 18th, 2018.
Gates, B. 2014. The Deadliest Animal in the World. https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/Most-Lethal-Animal-Mosquito-Week Accessed May 18th, 2018.
Fox, J. 2018. PCT Online, Mosquito Suppression Key to Customer Satisfaction. http://magazine.pctonline.com/article/april-2018/mosquito-suppression-key-to-customer-satisfaction.aspx. Accessed: May 18th, 2018.
Rasmussen, S.A., D.J. Jamieson, M.A. Honein, and L.R. Petersen. 2016. Zika Virus and birth defects – reviewing the evidence for causality. N. Engl. J. Med. 374: 1981-1987.
Rios, L. and J.E. Maruniak. 2004. Feature Creature. Asian Tiger Mosquito. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/aquatic/asian_tiger.htm. Accessed: May 18th, 2018.
Stewart, A. 2011. Wicked Bugs. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.