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Uncovering the Health Risks of Mosquitoes

Breakthroughs Made on Where & Why

Uncovering the Health Risks of Common Mosquitoes

By John Salak –

No one wants the buzz when it comes to mosquitoes. These little buggers are more than just annoying; they can be deadly.

Mosquito-borne diseases infect approximately 700 million people worldwide, killing an estimated 750,000 annually. Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that nearly half the world’s population is at risk from malaria spread by these insects, among other diseases.

While no longer a widespread threat in the U.S., Statista reports there are still about 2,000 malaria cases reported in the states annually. However, other mosquito-based infections still occur thanks to the more than 200 different types of mosquitoes that buzz around the continental United States and several U.S. territories. Admittedly, most of the 200 breeds are nuisance mosquitoes whose calling cards consist of annoying buzzes followed by blood-sucking bites before taking off. Yet about a dozen of these U.S. skeeters can and do carry diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most common mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. is the West Nile virus. But dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus outbreaks have also occurred in several states and territories, including Florida, Hawaii, Texas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Science is fighting back against this ancient adversary. Stanford University has just released a model that integrates climate, land use, and socioeconomic data to predict where malaria outbreaks will occur at a village level.

If the model proves true, healthcare practitioners could focus on mosquito control and healthcare efforts and make more cost-effective use of limited resources.

There is a Stanford-led study with local scientists and healthcare experts in Madagascar.

“We can predict which villages will have the most malaria cases, even when these villages are only a few miles apart,” reported Julie Pourtois, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student, “These predictions could help distribute limited healthcare resources where they are most needed, which is particularly valuable in countries with limited access to health care.”

It is a breakthrough in controlling malaria, according to study co-author Giulio De Leo, a professor of oceans and Earth system science at Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

“We have shown that the new generation of satellite and land use data, integrated with socioeconomic and public health data gathered, allows us to describe heterogeneity in malaria incidence at a fine spatial scale,” he said, “That was impossible until recently.”

The good news on mosquitos doesn’t stop with the Stanford research. Perhaps more beneficial to individuals in less-at-risk areas, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have uncovered why mosquitoes are more attracted to some humans than others. It all comes down to specialized receptors on their neurons.

The discovery isn’t just enlightening; it could pave the way for more effective bite and disease control everywhere under any conditions.

“Understanding the molecular biology of mosquito odor-sensing is key to developing new ways to avoid bites and the burdensome diseases they cause,” explained Christopher Potter, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

To specify the receptor link between people and these insects, there needs to be more work but the research is helpful in getting mosquitoes to bug off.

 

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