What If We Got Rid of All the Mosquitoes?

Did you know that mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on the planet?  That’s right.  Those tiny buzzing insects cause nearly 1 million human deaths per year, far more than the typical rulers of the animal kingdom that we’re usually afraid of like sharks, lions, and bears.  With the recent spread of Zika virus, concern over mosquito-borne illnesses is at a higher level than ever.  So much so, that the federal government is even stepping in to help effected countries and take preventative steps to stop it from worsening.  In addition to Zika virus, other mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue fever infect millions of people every year.  It seems like mosquitoes are turning out to be more trouble than they’re worth.

So, what would happen if we got rid of them all?

What do mosquitoes contribute to the environment, and what would the cost be for removing them from the equation?  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

There are over 3,500 species of mosquito, most of which pose no threat to humans because they live off of nectar from fruit and plants.  However, females from a small fraction of those species use human blood to help develop eggs.  And an even smaller fraction of those carry the parasites that cause disease in humans.  Such species include Aedes Aegypti, Aedes Albopictus, and Anopheles Gambiae that spread diseases like Zika virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, and malaria.

Scientists estimate that a total eradication of mosquitoes would have some widespread negative side effects.  Since the majority of male mosquitoes feed on fruit and plant nectar, wiping them out would remove important pollinators from the eco-system, damaging the plants that depend on mosquitoes to survive.  Sadly, that includes orchids and many other flowers .  Mosquito larvae are also a large food source for animals such as fish, birds, and bats, so their disappearance would impact the food chain.  Beyond this, scientists admit that it’s difficult to estimate the complete impact a disappearance of mosquitoes would have because they are difficult to study in nature.  Eco-systems based on larger mammals like lions and snakes are easier to study and understand because the animals living there are, well bigger.  Ann Froschauer, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said,  “Removing mosquitoes entirely could have consequences we can’t predict.”

Other Solutions for Mosquito Control

If removing mosquitoes completely is too risky, what about a partial eradication of the most dangerous species?  Scientists refute the argument that the food chain would suffer without mosquitoes by saying that other insects, especially non-harmful mosquito species, would simply fill in the gap.  Biologists have even suggested genetic modification to eliminate certain mosquito species, like Aedes Aegypti.  The biotech firm Oxitec tested a modified version of the male mosquito that produces underdeveloped offspring, which die before reaching reproduction and developing the ability to spread harmful diseases.  Releasing 3 million of these insects on the Cayman Islands in 2009 resulted in a 96% reduction in mosquitoes only a year later.  Brazil, a country dramatically affected by Zika Virus, is in the middle of a trial with these modified mosquitoes and already reports a 92% decrease in numbers.

There is, of course, concern about using this method.  Not only is there an ethical dilemma of purposefully eliminating an entire species, but to do so through genetic modification is expensive and needs a lot of resources to work.  Luckily, scientists are constantly in search of other solutions.  Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are studying how mosquitoes are attracted to certain types of body odors, helping to create more effective repellants.  Likewise, the Eliminate Dengue Program in Australia is researching a way to reduce mosquitoes’ ability to spread disease by infecting them with natural bacteria that make them resistant to parasites that cause illness.

So, a complete wipe out of mosquitoes isn’t in our near future.  But while scientists are busy in the labs inventing solutions to manage the issue, there are plenty of steps you can take at home to protect you and your family against mosquitoes and other pests, such as eliminating sources of standing water.  Mosquito Joe is here to help as well, adding another layer of defense against mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika virus.  Contact your local Mosquito Joe for more information, so you can get summer started early and enjoy being outside again.

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White House Requests Billions in Zika Virus Aid

As concern about the Zika virus is spreading just as quickly as the infection itself, so is demand for assistance in affected areas.  That is why the White House is requesting $1.8 billion in aid from Congress to help fight this mosquito-borne illness expanding throughout the Western Hemisphere.  The aid request comes after the Center for Disease Control’s Emergency Operations Center upgraded to a Level 1 status as a result of Zika, a level it has only seen three times in history – the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

According to the White House, “The requested resources will build on our ongoing preparedness efforts and will support essential strategies to combat this virus, such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs; accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development; enabling the testing and procurement of vaccines and diagnostics; educating health care providers, pregnant women and their partners; improving epidemiology and expanding laboratory and diagnostic testing capacity; improving health services and supports for low-income pregnant women, and enhancing the ability of Zika-affected countries to better combat mosquitoes and control transmission.”

The proposal contains $355 million in aid for South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, where Zika virus is most active.  The funds are intended to help spread educational awareness of the virus, provide incentives for the creation of a vaccine, support and training for healthcare workers, and healthcare support for those infected.

The bulk amount of the $1.4 billion will go towards prevention and response strategies to include enhanced Zika surveillance and laboratory response, education, and research in affected areas.  Perhaps most important is the $200 million dedicated towards research and development of new vaccines and diagnostic tests.  There is currently no cure or treatment for the virus leaving millions exposed as the virus spreads.  An additional $41 million is dedicated towards aiding U.S. citizens impacted by Zika abroad through communication efforts, healthcare, data collection, and research.  See the specifics of the request on the White House website.

The Pan American Health Organization currently reports a Zika presence in 26 countries.  Although no cases have originated in the U.S., there have been over 50 confirmed cases in travelers here since December.  The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency last week, citing the Zika virus’ link to microcephaly – a neurological condition affecting newborns – as the cause.  In addition to this funding request, the CDC is sending a team of scientists to Brazil to investigate the link between Zika and microcephaly.

Although Zika virus is spreading quickly and public concern has spiked in recent weeks, it is important to know the facts about the virus.  Only 1 in 5 people infected will actually become ill, and even fewer will need medical attention.  The usual symptoms include headache, fever, rash, and joint pain, which last for 2-7 days on average.  The threat posed to pregnant women and newborns is severe, but Zika virus is manageable in most cases.  Without a vaccine or treatment, check out these preventative steps you can take to protect yourself and your family against mosquitoes.  Remember, the best way to avoid transmission of any mosquito-borne illness is to prevent mosquito bites.  Check the CDC travel alert page for updated information on where the virus has spread, and seek medical attention if you start to exhibit symptoms.

While we aren’t experts in the virus itself, we are experts in effective mosquito control and support efforts to educate the public on both Zika virus and how to reduce mosquito activity.  Check back regularly with the Mosquito Joe Zika Virus Update page for the latest information, news, and tips.

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What Groundhog Day Means for Mosquitoes

February 2nd marks the day that millions of people nationwide turn to a groundhog to determine whether or not they should put away their winter jackets or brace for weeks of shoveling more snow.  Seems pretty strange, doesn’t it?  So, how did Groundhog Day become a national event?  And more importantly, what does Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction mean for mosquitoes this year?

The first Groundhog Day celebration (as we know it) began in 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  But the tradition extends long beyond that to the ancient German tradition of Candlemas Day.  Halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox (early February), clergymen would bless and distribute candles needed for winter, which people would display in the windows of their homes.  If the sun came out the following morning, the European hedgehog would poke its head out of the burrow, see a shadow, and retreat underground to prepare for another six weeks of winter.  The tradition continued with early German settlers in Pennsylvania, simply replacing the European hedgehog with a groundhog.

Fast forward to present day when thousands of people flock to Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania to see whether Punxsutawney Phil is going to see his shadow or not.  If you’ve ever tuned into the live broadcast event, you’ve probably noticed a group of gentlemen in top hats and tuxedos encircling Phil.  They are known as the Inner Circle – a group of local residents designated with planning the event and caring for the groundhog year round.  They claim that there has only been one Punxsutawney Phil in over 120 years, made possible by a special Groundhog Elixir administered every summer.  Although the celebration has been slightly embellished over the years, the tradition remains.  If Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter.  If there is no shadow at all, then spring will come early.  According to The Washington Post, Phil isn’t as accurate in his predictions as we’d like to believe.  While he has technically been right more times than not, the change in average temperatures over the years and across the country are too small to give this tradition much meteorological credibility.

So, what does Phil’s prediction mean for mosquitoes?  While six more weeks of winter might sound like a nightmare right now, colder temperatures will keep mosquitoes away for longer.  Once temperatures drop below 50 degrees and stay there consistently, mosquitoes will either die or enter into a hibernation state called diapause.  However, an early spring will not only wake those hibernating mosquitoes up, it will signal mosquito eggs that it’s time to hatch!  Eggs can survive very extreme weather, so this winter was nothing for them.  It might make you think twice about wishing for April showers and May flowers.

Of course, an early spring also brings beautiful weather, the opportunity to get outside, and the chance to call your favorite mosquito control company!  Depending on where you live, Mosquito Joe may be up and running sooner than you think, ready to protect your family and yard against outdoor pests.  Contact your local Mosquito Joe for more information, and don’t forget to call us when the icicles melt!

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