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Mosquitoes: The Dangerous Itch


Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

Annoying, commonplace, and sometimes dangerous, the mosquito is one little creature that holds a familiar place in societies all across the globe. Without them, would a camping trip in the woods ever really be complete? They prey on the nearest blood they can discover, and more often than is desirable, this prey is found in both human and in animal form. Although many people think nothing of a little mosquito bite, mosquitoes do indeed cause an incredible amount of pain and sickness with their bites that are all too often seen as nothing more than an annoying itch.

Mosquitoes spread countless diseases through their bites. Their viruses affect 700 million people each year. Some of these diseases include well-known ones, such as West Nile Virus, Malaria, Dengue, and Yellow Fever. In fact, over one million people die each year from mosquito-born diseases. Although the large majority of these cases take place in the more tropical climates, modern travel has created a gateway for them to spread across the globe. One illness in particular that has been in the news quite frequently within the past couple years is of particular importance—Zika virus.

Zika virus map - Statista

Zika virus has been gaining more and more attention in the more recent months as it has been spreading to new parts of the world. This illness, first identified in Africa in the 1940s when monkeys contracted it, is another one that is spread mainly through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Although the symptoms, such as a rashes and joint pains, of this disease are oftentimes harmless, this illness has been identified as being the culprit of fatal birth defects in the babies whose mothers suffered from Zika during pregnancy. Clearly, this virus is extremely dangerous for expecting mothers.

With these diseases in mind, consider exactly how mosquitoes accomplish their job of spreading them to such a large number of people each year. Although the mosquito’s limited life span varies from as short as four days to as long as one month, they lay their eggs by the hundreds. This explains why the entourage of these little insects is so overwhelming. The females, who are the ones to blame for the spreading of diseases since they are the only mosquitos who actually bite, prefer to lay their eggs on the surfaces of still water or damp earth. After the eggs are laid, they undergo the larva stage, during which the larva dwells in the water, coming to the surface for oxygen and eating small organisms for food. The larva sheds its skin four times during this phase. During the pupa stage, the mosquito rests, not feeding, and moves with the light. After the pupa stage, the mosquito reaches its adult stage and becomes equipped to exit its watery home. This is when their need for blood meals begins. Depending on the species, mosquitoes are prompted to feed either early in the morning or at dusk. The weather also plays a key factor in their desires to feed. Cloudy days and shade are especially inviting to some species, and other species travel miles to find the perfect meal. 

When a mosquito digs into its prey, it injects its saliva into the victim. This only becomes dangerous to the victim when the mosquito is carrying a virus. Fortunately for the mosquito, its body has the ability to recognize this virus as a foreign element and automatically destroys it within a short amount of time. Thus, the mosquito remains unharmed by the virus that it has now transferred to the human or animal by way of saliva. The mosquito must bite the victim while it is actually infected with the virus and before its body destroys it. Since the time frame for this to be accomplished is rather limited, the mosquito that is virus-free today may have been carrying a virus such as Zika yesterday.

Being aware of the dangerous consequences that mosquito bites have on both animals and humans instills a desire to take precautions against allowing these insects to prevail. One way to take precaution is to try to limit their breeding grounds. Frequently changing the water in garden fountains and birdbaths, flushing out standing water, and having proper irrigation systems are a few ways that people can help control the mosquito population around their homes. Additionally, homeowners can cut down any weeds or tall grasses that grow close to the foundation of their homes, and mosquito traps are readily available, as well, for summer nights outside.

If one plans to be spending any time outside when these factors cannot be eliminated, mosquito repellent is the best option, especially at dusk or around any damp areas. Mosquitoes remain well-known creatures whose itchy bites are annoying, but people must be careful to take needed precautions against mosquito bites that can sometimes be so dangerous.

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