Diseases Spread by Mosquitoes
For many, mosquitoes are unwelcome guests on holiday to a tropical location. They can also be an unwanted annoyance at home throughout the warmer months of the year. Everyone has a different reaction to the airborne pests, but this is even before considering the potentially fatal diseases they may be carrying. Mosquitoes transmit diseases that affect around 700 million people every year. These, in turn, lead to millions of deaths.
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When mosquitoes bite humans, anticoagulants and saliva are transmitted. The immune system may develop antibodies, so the area of skin becomes inflamed and irritable, though sensitivity varies for each individual. Bacteria, parasites, and viruses can be transmitted, carrying various diseases.
Malaria is a parasite that was first recorded in China in 2700 BC. Tropical and subtropical regions are those mainly affected by malaria, accounting for around 40 percent of the global population. In 2017 there were over 600,000 deaths from malaria, most of which were in Africa. Malaria is carried by female anopheles mosquitoes.
In the human body, the parasites pass to the liver, where they multiply. They then infect the bloodstream, pass into the red blood cells, and eventually destroy them. If untreated, malaria can cause kidney failure and death. The disease can be noticed by flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sweating, and headaches.
Also common to tropical and subtropical climates, dengue fever is a virus that infects around 80 million people worldwide every year. Dengue fever has only become a global disease in the last 70 years, and the number of cases has been increasing.
It is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, which can transmit the disease around a week after contracting it from an infected person. A human infected with the virus will show symptoms common to infections, such as headaches and joint pain. The disease can progress to the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever, which has a fatality rate of five percent.
Yellow fever is another virus that is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. It is limited to tropical regions of Africa and the Americas, It was first recorded around 400 years ago. There is no treatment for the virus, and it is mainly controlled through vaccination.
Yellow fever incubates in a host for between three and six days, then shows infection symptoms, like fever, headache, and nausea. For a minority of patients, a more serious stage of the disease manifests in nosebleeds, abdominal pain, vomiting, and yellowing of the skin. This will lead to death in around half of the cases.
Chikungunya is a recent virus that was first recorded in 1955 in Tanzania. It has since spread into Asia, Europe, and the Americas, with outbreaks affecting millions in these regions. It is also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
There is currently no vaccination for Chikungunya. It has an incubation period of between three and seven days and symptoms that include back pain, headaches, rash, and vomiting. Symptoms usually improve after a week, though they may persist for up to a year. There is a low risk of death, at around one in a thousand.
This virus originates from birds, then is transmitted to Culex mosquitoes. West Nile Virus is another recent disease, first recorded in Uganda in 1937. It has since been reported in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia.
Around 80 percent of those infected do not develop symptoms, and the remainder is affected by aches, fever, and nausea. Around one in 150 develop encephalitis, an inflammation of brain tissue. This may result in paralysis or even death. As with many other viruses, there is no special treatment. Those over the age of 50 are at greater risk.
Zika was first isolated in Uganda in 1947, and it later spread to Asia and then to the Americas in the last decade. The Zika virus epidemic of 2015/2016 affected Brazil and other parts of North and South America. In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named the virus a global public health emergency.
Similar to the West Nile virus, Zika cannot be noticed in around 80 percent of cases as the symptoms are minimal. The disease can also be transmitted sexually, as well as by Aedes mosquitoes. The virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with development issues and unusually small heads.
Japanese encephalitis is one of the forms of encephalitis that include eastern equine encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and western equine encephalitis. Japanese encephalitis is limited to South East Asia and Pacific regions and causes around 68,000 cases a year, resulting in 17,000 deaths.
The virus is usually spread by Culex mosquitoes and has an incubation period from 2 to 26 days. Between 5 and 15 days after infection, it leads to symptoms that include fever, headaches, and vomiting. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, though in most cases this is not serious. The disease is controlled by vaccination, and there is no specific treatment.
With a high number of dangerous diseases spread through mosquitoes, people should take every precaution available to them. This may include vaccinations, mosquito nets, mosquito repellants, and avoiding exposure of the skin. Travelers should check government advice before visiting other parts of the world and take all the suggested measures. Outbreaks of diseases occur at different times, so these should be avoided at all costs. Although the effects of diseases can be minimal, it is always better to be safe than sorry.