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Mosquitoes could be the biggest enemy of humanity. Shall we get rid of her?




Part of Issue No. 5 of The Highlight of our homeland for ambitious stories that explain our world.


The deadliest killers in human history may not be weapons or bombs, cancer or car accidents. It is an annoying insect that most of us do not worry about: the mosquito.

Over the course of 200,000 years, 108 billion people have lived on Earth. And nearly half, 52 billion, were killed by mosquitoes. The effects of this catastrophic insect have shaped civilization far beyond our expectations, according to historian Timothy C. Winegard, whose new book The Midge: A Human Story of Our Deadliest Predator examines this deadly insect.

Since the dinosaur era, the incredibly resilient mosquito has been a vector of malaria, yellow fever, Zika and a host of other diseases that have plagued the human population, with the highest casualties in Africa. In The Mosquito Winegard's fifth book, he examines not only the catastrophic consequences of mosquitoes at the biological level, but also the social impact of insects, including the question of how they have affected GDP by millions of people taken from the workforce and controlled as a biological weapon in wartime the course of history.

I spoke with Winegard, who is currently teaching history and political science at Colorado Mesa University, about what makes mosquitoes "masters of evolutionary adaptation," whether they should be eradicated, and what kind of function they perform, if any. I also asked him the age-old question of how to avoid mosquito bites (the key, he says, has to do with our feet).

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for reasons of clarity.

Hope Reese

What makes mosquitoes unique as a deadly enemy to humanity?

Timothy C. Winegard

The mosquito is a nearly universal animal. We have 110 trillion on almost the whole planet and we have had it for over 100 million years. So the mosquito is global, while other insects here and there around the world have their ecological niches.

The other thing is that the mosquito transmits or transmits far more diseases than other insects. For example, they have the Assassin or Kiss Bug [a tropical bloodsucking insect that transmits parasites like the one that causes Chagas disease] but this is only one, while mosquitoes have parasites like malaria and numerous viruses and worms. So there are so many diseases that transmit different species of mosquito compared to other insects.

Hope Reese

How were mosquitoes so adaptable?

Timothy C. Winegard

Like any other animal, including it is a process of natural selection and survival. For example, since the Second World War, the mosquito has become accustomed to the global showers of DDT. And by the time Rachel Carson writes her seminal book Silent Spring in 1962, there are already five mosquitoes that are immune to DDT.

Mosquitoes want to live and multiply and continue their species, so they adapt to do so – as we do in our defense against malaria; For example, sickle cell anemia is an example of how we combat the threat of mosquito-borne diseases through natural selection.

Hope Reese

Let's take a step back. Can you talk about how you care about mosquitoes, both as a historian and a military person?

Timothy C. Winegard

Well, I'm Canadian. It is only part of our culture. More specifically, my curriculum at the university ranges from Western civilization to American history and indigenous studies. When I look into all these books, I see the story as a puzzle, and only parts of that puzzle were missing.

I sat down with my father, an ambulance, and started chatting about illnesses. He mentioned malaria and [I began] investigated malaria, mosquitoes and diseases. Later I went shopping and saw a huge display for Deep Wood's off-advert that can ward off mosquitoes that cause dengue fever, Zika and West Nile. The historical puzzle pieces clicked on and that was something like, "Okay, that's a breeze now."

In the course of history, when I was researching so many examples of mosquito-borne diseases, there was far more deadly than artificial weapons or inventions from antiquity to World War II.

Hope Reese

How were mosquitoes used in military operations?

Timothy C. Winegard

The Nazis purposely re-flooded the Pontine Marshes around Rome and Naples to reintroduce the mosquitoes of malaria that part of Italy during World War II. It was shocking to hear that it was thought and done, and then my wife's grandfather was in Anzio, Italy at the time, and was suffering from malaria. He had no idea.

So I told him in the spring of 2017, and it pulled back the curtains for him, for his wartime experience and for his stoic, normal self, just looked at me and said, "Well that makes a lot of sense. "Since there was a personal connection to the greater history of mosquito-borne diseases during World War II, this story hit me and my wife's family.

Hope Reese [19659031] You write that since the year 2000 there are on average 2 million deaths per year from mosquitoes. How many of them are from malaria?

Timothy C. Winegard

These numbers are estimates. Malaria is definitely responsible for the majority of deaths from mosquito-borne diseases. Yellow fever currently has a vaccine, so there are not nearly as many fatalities as in the past. Some of the other illnesses, such as West Nile and Zika, are generally not productive killers, but for the people who get the full symptoms, it is a terrible experience and can lead to death.

Since the founding of the Gates Foundation in 2000, with its amazing work on fighting mosquito-borne diseases and funding various research and trying to pump mosquito nets, insecticides and malaria drugs into the less developed pockets of the world, we have one Decline in total mortality from mosquitoes. communicable diseases, especially malaria. Again, numbers still vary, but in general, we note a decrease in deaths caused specifically by malaria.

On the other hand, what we observe in some of these other viruses is actually an increased threat from their spread around the world. While the number of malaria deaths is sure to decline, we see an increasing threat from Zika, West Nile and dengue fever.

Hope Reese

They write about turning points in history that triggered more mosquito-borne diseases. What are some of the big moments in history that have affected the spread of these diseases?

Timothy C. Winegard

The domestication of animals in the immediate vicinity of mosquitoes leads to zoonotic diseases, in which the overflow [happens] of animal diseases takes place on humans. We see this in smallpox and tuberculosis, the common cold. So it was bad at this end. If we stir our environment, cut down trees, add water, this is a dangerous recipe for the spread of mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases.

The other factor is that population density increases when we domesticate these plants and animals. Diseases can spread more easily because humans are close to each other and mosquitoes are close to humans and animals. So it's a fun package that creates the right environment for the zoonotic transmission of disease from animal to human.

Hope Reese

What effect does climate change have on it?

Timothy C. Winegard

Elevated temperatures mean a longer breeding season for mosquitoes. In Canada, the number of mosquito-borne diseases has increased by 10 percent in the last 20 years. In the southern United States, we have seen domestic cases of Zika, Chikungunya, and even Dengue fever in the last 10 years. As temperatures rise around the planet, mosquitoes survive and multiply, increasing the risk of disease spread.

Hope Reese

Is there anything good about mosquitoes?

Timothy C. Winegard

We don & # 39; I do not know exactly. We know that they do not absorb waste like other insects, but like other insects aerate the soil. Obviously, other animals eat it, but not as an indispensable food source. And they pollinate because the males drink nectar, but they do not pollinate like the bees. And only the females bite.

I refer to it in the book, and this is a sensitive issue, but perhaps it is the culmination of the Malthusian control of uncontrolled population growth.

We forget that we are an animal of a ton living on this planet, and we share our global village. Sometimes we are driven by our own hubris to believe that we are above other animals on the planet, which is not the case. The mosquito and other insects, like the kiss bug, remind us that we are not as powerful as we may think.

Hope Reese

Should we completely eliminate mosquitoes?

Timothy C. Winegard

There is certainly a moral argument for destroying the human population and we should try to eradicate the diseases. I do not choose pages. Biologically there is an argument in one direction, but morally there is an argument in the other direction. This is something that scientists and biologists have been thinking about.

To use the analogy of Star Wars there is a balance to power. And when there is a disruption in power, things go wrong. To disrupt this balance by intervening in natural selection to eliminate all mosquitoes – and I do not think that anyone will support it, as there are 3,500 species of mosquitoes and very few communicable diseases – but perhaps the extermination of those who have diseases transmitted, extremely.

Nonetheless, much of the CRISPR research [which alters the DNA of mosquitoes] is aimed at rendering mosquitoes harmless by rendering them incapable of disease, but not damaging the mosquitoes themselves.

Hope Reese

Eighty-Five Percent of What We Do We are attractive to mosquitoes due to genetic factors. Can you explain? And what can we do to avoid bites?

Timothy C. Winegard

The blood type is one. According to studies, they prefer the blood group O over A, B or a mixture.

But there are other factors [that affect the chance of attracting mosquitoes]. Do not wear bright colors. Do not drink beer. Train less – when you train, you emit more carbon dioxide; This is essentially a magnetizer for mosquitoes. Clean your feet. The bacterium on our feet is a mosquito phosphotasis. Everywhere else on the skin is usually a deterrent, except for the feet. But most of it is hard wired into a genetic circuit board. There are myths that your hair color has an influence or that you have a darker or leatherier skin. None of this seems to be true.

But the best advice? Do not go outside during the main mosquito lessons! At the end of the day, people will shower us with bug spray, but if you miss a tiny area, they'll find it! It bypasses our best repellents.


Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, Kentucky. Her writing appeared in the Atlantic, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, Longreads, VICE and other publications.


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