When considering “the most dangerous animal in the world,” there are several obvious candidates, like the Great White Shark or the Hippopotomus? But, this title rests with an animal you’d least expect – the mosquito.
Mosquitoes are infamous. They have quite a reputation for ruining barbecues and birthday parties. But the most dangerous in the world? What is it that makes them so deadly?
Though tiny, these insects cause more deaths than any other animal on the planet. Not necessarily the mosquito itself, but the number of serious diseases it could carry.
Understanding more about mosquitoes and how they spread disease is important. It helps increase awareness of the dangers of mosquitoes and provides us with the knowledge we need to protect ourselves.
What happens when a mosquito bites?
Only female mosquitoes bite and suck blood, because the blood provides nutrients for their eggs. When a mosquito lands, it punctures the skin with two tubes, one draws blood, the other injects an enzyme to help prevent blood clotting. Most people have a minor allergy to this enzyme, which creates the small bump and itching.
Mosquitoes find their victims by detecting infrared radiation emitted by the warm blood inside of us, observing our movements, and using chemical signals. They also like smelly feet.
How do mosquitoes spread diseases?
Mosquitoes suck blood, like little vampires. We, as humans, take extreme precautions when possibly coming in contact with the blood of an infected person. But, mosquitoes can carry an infection to humans or animals without regulation or boundary.
Though there are over 3,000 species of mosquito, only a couple hundred feed on human blood, and then even further, there are three main species responsible for the transmission of human disease.
Mosquitoes spread diseases in a few ways. In general, the mosquito picks up the virus or fungi when it lands and bites. The mosquito then acts as a vehicle for the virus. The virus is even able to reproduce inside of the mosquito.
When the mosquito bites again, it transfers the virus through its saliva to the victim. In the case of malaria, a parasite will attach to the gut of a female mosquito and then enter a human or animal as she feeds.
Mosquitoes can travel up to a few miles carrying their “blood meals.” One breed, salt marsh mosquitoes, can travel up to 100 miles. As mosquitoes travel from one place to another, they carry diseases with them.
Mosquito and human movement is at fault for transmitting uncommon diseases to new places. Climate change also contributes, as changing climates push mosquitoes into new, more suitable, areas.
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes:
|Malaria||In Development, Pills Available|
|Dengue Fever||In Development|
|Zika Virus||In Development|
|West Nile Virus||No Vaccine|
Protect yourself against mosquitoes!
The CDC recommends individuals do the following to avoid mosquito-borne diseases:
- Use DEET– This repellent is the best way to protect against mosquitoes. A product containing 10% DEET can protect for up to 90 minutes before reapplication is needed.
- Wear the right clothing– Wear light colored clothes. Mosquitoes are more attracted to dark colors. Be sure your clothing covers as much skin as possible to avoid mosquito bites.
- Avoid standing water– Try to avoid areas with ponds or other standing water where mosquitoes may breed. Get rid of as much standing water as possible around your house. Mosquitoes need water to breed and live. Some species can even breed in puddles after rainstorms if necessary.
Do you have questions about mosquitoes or are you wondering if you are at risk for Zika on your next adventure? Set up an appointment with a Passport Travel Health Specialist by calling or booking online now.
Written for Passport Health by Adrienne St. Clair