Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Why care about mosquitoes?

Published:Wednesday | October 19, 2016 | 10:00 AM
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito
Examining mosquitoes in a lab
Breeding sites for the aedes aegypti mosquito.
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Jamaica has always had mosquitoes, given its tropical climate. And we have all felt the effects, often dismissing them as pesky little creatures. There is an underlying conviction that these two facts make it unnecessary to pay attention to mosquitoes. Essentially many ask the question, "why bother to get so worked up about mosquitoes when I've been bitten all my life?" Added to this is the belief that it cannot be the mosquitoes that are causing such debilitating illnesses in the form of dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and zika viruses, among others.

The bottom line is that everyone should care about mosquitoes and, more important, about trying to prevent their breeding as well as being bitten. The emergence and spread of mosquito-borne illnesses is partly due to the worldwide increase in ecotourism and international travel. The truth is that the global community is becoming an even smaller space with international travel and trade. What this means is that dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and zika viruses are but a visitor away.

Mosquitoes are very mobile and can move over large distances - a few miles - allowing them to have some trajectory in finding their blood meals and spreading disease in the process. However, it is the female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are the real worry, since they are the ones that ingest blood, which provides the nutrition needed to fertilise their eggs. They are also the ones responsible for the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases like ZikV.

The Aedes aegypti has never been more numerous or lived in more locations; it has evolved to live in close quarters with humans, and the trash that humans create. This is quite different from most other species of mosquitoes, like the ones that transmit the West Nile virus, for example, which tend to lay their eggs in marshes, rice fields, ditches, the edges of streams and small, temporary rain pools.

As the world continues to shrink, mosquito control will become a more critical public health function as the relevant authorities try to stem the spread of these diseases. Persons can no longer remain nonchalant under the cover or belief that these diseases can't or won't affect them or their families.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

 

Climate change is also at least partially responsible for where mosquitoes and the diseases they carry end up. In the past, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes would not establish themselves in more temperate regions; however, climate change will result in the northern or southern expansion of mosquito areas, and this change in range will also be accompanied by the introduction of mosquito-borne viruses in these territories.

The days of hanging on to myths are long gone - the world must confront the realities of these viruses. Mosquitoes are a reality and countries are continually importing the diseases they carry. The world must be prepared to prevent their becoming part of our public health landscape. That requires safe, effective, sustained mosquito control. However, continued public support is crucial for the success of each of these efforts. Each person will pay the price for complacency.

This brings the discussion to the core issue of individual responsibility in the reduction of mosquito breeding sites as well as prevention of mosquito bites. It may not be possible to completely eradicate mosquitoes, but it is possible to control the population. This starts by every individual taking responsibility for their environment: in homes, schools, churches, workplaces, communities and surrounding environs.

The female mosquito produces on average 100 to 200 eggs per batch, which will hatch in seven to 15 days. Laid eggs can survive for very long periods in a dry state, often for more than a year. The lifespan of the adult mosquito is two weeks to a month. The female lays her eggs on the sides and edges of containers where water can settle. In fact, mosquitoes can breed in as little as a drop of water.

Each person is urged not to harbour mosquito breeding sites by allowing water to settle in containers, flower pots, old tyres, gutters and drains, and leaving water storage containers uncovered. Anywhere water has gathered is a potential mosquito breeding site. A quick 10-minute search of your environment once a week will help to reduce mosquito breeding sites.

As it relates to personal protection from mosquito bites, it is advised that persons wear long-sleeved clothing where possible, sleep under mosquito nets, put mesh on windows and doors and use mosquito repellents. It is important to remember to use only approved mosquito repellents that contain DEET as well as approved mosquito coils and vapour release products.

• For further information, contact: Ministry of Health, Zika hotline numbers: (876) 537- 1709 and (876) 536-9125; Toll free number: 1-888-ONE-LOVE (1-888-663-5683); Switchboard number: (876) 633-7433; Website: moh.gov.jm; www.facebook.com/themohgovjm; https://twitter.com/themohgovjm; https://instagram.com/themohgovjm