National Geographic
Menu

The Day of the Mosquito

mosquito.jpg

Pause for a moment on World Mosquito Day to reflect on the little bloodsucker that probably causes more human suffering than any other organism.

Observed annually today, August 20, World Mosquito Day originated in 1897 by Dr. Ronald Ross of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, according to the American Mosquito Control Association, a nonprofit based in New Jersey.

Ross is credited with the discovery of the transmission of malaria by the mosquito, and was honored with a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902.

Each year 350-500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and over one million people die, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But malaria is not the only disease spread by mosquitoes. There’s also West Nile virus, various strains of encephalitis, Dengue Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Yellow Fever.

Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post mentions that with more than 500 mosquito-borne viruses out there, health officials are concerned about the spread in the United States of tropical diseases such as chikungunya fever and dengue, especially as global temperatures rise.

Humans aren’t the only targets of these sanguinivorous pests. Mosquitoes can also carry parasites and diseases to dogs and cats (including heartworm) and horses–and many wild animals, including birds. West Nile virus cycles between birds, mosquitoes, and humans.

The Asian tiger mosquito was accidentally introduced into the U.S. 20 years ago and is a carrier of West Nile virus. The mosquito has spread rapidly around the world and is known for its aggressive daytime activity and ability to breed in the smallest puddles of water commonly found in gutters, old tires, and empty cans.

North Americans know it for the particularly nasty welts and skin irritation left by its bite.

Asian Tiger Mosquito.jpg

Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) courtesy CDC

The CDC recommends four ways to Fight the Bite:

  • Use mosquito repellent (new research released this week shows that they really don’t like DEET!)
  • Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs
  • Install or repair window and door screens
  • Support community-based mosquito control programs

 

Related National Geographic News stories:

Mosquito Adapting to Global Warming, Study Finds

Warming Will Lead to Major Disease Outbreaks, Experts Warn

Beat Bugs Without DEET: U.S. Boosts 2 Alternatives

DDT to Return as Weapon Against Malaria, Experts Say

Bill Clinton Announces AIDS, Malaria Initiatives