Mosquitos, commonly seen as a nuisance in most parts of the country, might be more dangerous than that designation implies. Due in part to global climate change and local fluctuations in temperature, certain species are cropping up in new areas, finding lush feeding grounds and spreading disease as they go.
Scientists and researchers have a tough road ahead when it comes to curbing the rapid reproduction of these dangerous pests. And as climates continue to change, their headaches are just beginning.
Mosquitos, for all their annoyance, also remain the deadliest animal on the earth. Each year, around a million lives are lost to mosquito-borne illnesses — particularly malaria — with some 500 million cases of disease transferals from mosquito-human contact. While wealthier nations curbed these numbers significantly through vaccines and effective medicine, the movement of large mosquito populations to previously undisturbed areas makes the system harder to implement.
In particular, mosquitos are known for spreading a plethora of nasty blood-related diseases. Malaria is highest on the list for lives taken, as it regularly scourges impoverished areas of Africa and South America. However, a barrage of anti-malarial drugs and treatments can be used to combat the parasite and are available in most developed nations should infection occur. The parasite is too complex for a single effective vaccine to exist.
Also on the list are West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever, Dengue and Zika — all of which are deadly, debilitating or extremely uncomfortable for infected patients. Though some of these diseases fly under the radar — West Nile doesn’t show in 70 to 80 percent of those infected — other serious problems, like meningitis, can emerge.
Of course, longtime residents of areas high in mosquitos may have developed partial immunities to these ailments. If not, their local hospitals surely keep the essential medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals in stock. But what happens when large populations of disease-carrying mosquitos spread inland?
Mosquitos characteristically thrive in warm climates, spawn in stagnant water during the spring and reach a population spike in the summer. As the winter comes along, mosquitos in the more temperate zones pass away and resurge with the next year’s warmth.
Global warming might be in the process of changing all that. Due to abnormally high temperatures in some regions, this annual kill-off is not necessarily happening. Instead, more female mosquitos survive the winter, emerge in the spring, and explode the population come summertime. The warming temperatures also reveal new waterways and swamps from underneath mountainous snowmelt, and along with it new areas for the population to spread.
Preventing the Spread
The most effective means of fixing this problem is preventing the growth and spread of mosquito populations from beyond their natural areas.
With all this in mind, scientists have released millions of new mosquitos into the wild. Luckily for us, these mosquitos are sterilized males who, it is hoped, will compete with the fertile males to mate with the females, resulting in unfertilized eggs and a gradual decrease in the population.
Though this process should work, years of population observations and weighing of other factors will need to occur before a solid consensus. Furthermore, no one is entirely certain how many sterilized males will be necessary to offset the population booms. Too many could mean the annihilation of native mosquito populations or an adverse impact on the predators that rely on mosquitos for food.
More traditional means also prove effective. Widespread use of pesticides in common mosquito spawn zones has seen a decrease in populations from some areas. Additionally, more holistic sprays, infusions and smokes — including garlic, citronella candles and wood smoke — can help in individual yards.
Increasing the number of natural predators in the area can go a long way as well. In some areas, scientists have begun bolstering the local bat and spider populations, as these natural predators have none of the negative side effects of pesticides and cover a wider range than individual pest remedies. Again, calculating the exact number of predators to introduce can be difficult — too many bats or spiders might cause the entire predator population to starve.
While the risks of mosquito overpopulation look grim, there are a plethora of effective ways to deal with the pests. We can all be optimistic knowing that tons of research and money have gone into understanding the issue and testing various methods for dealing with it. Over time, our methods will only improve.
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