Just as we won funding to develop BiteBytes in 2016, images of babies deformed by zika surfaced in Brazil. The rapid rise of zika, which can cause neurological damage including microcephaly, in Latin America, notably in Polynesian islands in 2013 and spreading to the southern United States by the fall of 2016, alarmed many Americans to the dangers of Aedes mosquitoes1. By 2017, zika largely receded from the news2, as cases throughout Latin America plummeted3, likely due to exposure in 2016 and resulting herd immunity.
Red indicates probable presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Source: The New York Times | Source: Moritz U. G. Kraemer et al., eLife Sciences; Simon Hay, University of Oxford
Source: Dredze, Broniatowski, & Hilyard, 2016
While people develop immunity to zika, thus halting the spread of serious infections, immunity to West Nile virus develops more slowly. West Nile has an avian-mosquito-vertebrate life cycle, transmitted between birds (often sparrows), mosquitoes (mostly Culexgenus), and humans. Similar to zika, when West Nile first came to the US in 19994, many feared the dangerous infections, which arise in about 1 out of every 150 people infected5. Although zika transmission has mostly stopped, West Nile continues to infect people throughout the US each year; last year infections were reported in 47 states5.
The news will always feature new stories, so last year’s infections don’t make the headlines, and recede from people’s worries. We shouldn’t let concern about the common factor –mosquitoes—escape our attention and efforts at control. Vector-borne diseases more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, although much of the rise was due to ticks not mosquitoes6. We’re lucky so far to mostly avoid Dengue, malaria, and many other mosquito-borne diseases, thanks to environmental management, rapid access to health care, and human-mosquito barriers like screens. Still, everyone can take care of their own yard (http://bitebytes.net/information), and work together to limit mosquitoes in public spaces. Plus, you can report mosquitoes to your local environmental health office (most cities have one) and report mosquitoes using citizen science initiatives like BiteBytes.
- Dredze, M., Broniatowski, D. A., & Hilyard, K. M. (2016). Zika vaccine misconceptions: A social media analysis. Vaccine, 34(30), 3441–3442.
- Lanciotti, R. S. (1999). Origin of the West Nile Virus Responsible for an Outbreak of Encephalitis in the Northeastern United States. Science, 286(5448), 2333–2337. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.286.5448.2333
- Rosenberg, R., Lindsey, N. P., Fischer, M., Gregory, C. J., Hinckley, A. F., Mead, P. S., … Petersen, L. R. (2018). Vital Signs : Trends in Reported Vectorborne Disease Cases — United States and Territories, 2004–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(17), 496–501. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6717e1