Mosquitoes are a vital part of the ecosystem. Mosquito larvae are an important food source for dragonflies and many species of fish while adults feed birds, bats, and other insects. Likewise, their larvae help recycle microscopic organic matter in water by eating and digesting it, while adults can help pollinate flowers when they consume nectar.
However, while they certainly serve a purpose in nature, mosquitoes are host to numerous diseases that can be harmful, even fatal, to humans. While they are not the direct cause of the diseases they carry, they are excellent at helping them spread.
Here are four of the most important reasons why mosquitoes are a health hazard:
Malaria is an infectious disease caused by microscopic parasites, called protozoa. Spread through mosquito saliva, the disease is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
After entering a human body, the protozoa travel to the liver and reproduce. Once inside the liver, the protozoa wreak havoc on the body. Common symptoms of malaria include fatigue, fever, vomiting, headaches, and discolored skin. In severe cases, it can cause seizures, coma, and even death.
No vaccine currently exists for malaria, making prevention a necessity. Presently, the only way to prevent the spread of malaria is to keep mosquitoes away.
Named for the yellow skin coloration it can cause in certain cases, yellow fever is a virus most often found in tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa. Yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes, and while rare in the United States, it is not unheard of, and can spread to and from individuals that have spent time in infested areas.
Symptoms of yellow fever include fever, chills, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pain, and headaches. While yellow fever is a relatively short-term disease with symptoms typically improving within a week, uncommon cases can lead to abdominal pain, liver damage, and kidney problems.
Patient care for yellow fever has no specific treatment, and is instead based on the present symptoms. Like malaria, the best step to avoid contracting yellow fever is to limit all contact with mosquitoes.
Dengue is a widespread virus prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas. In fact, the Center for Disease control estimates that over one-third of the world's population live in areas that are at risk for infection, and about 400 million people are infected each year.
Symptoms of dengue include high fever, headache, vomiting, pain in joints and muscles, and skin rash. However, while relatively mild by itself, the disease can develop into one of two life-threatening versions: dengue hemorrhagic fever (causing bleeding, blood plasma leakage, and low levels of blood platelets) and dengue shock syndrome ( causing dangerously low blood pressure).
Like malaria, dengue has no vaccine to prevent infection, making protective measures against mosquito bites a must.
Until recently, the Zika virus was considered ultimately harmless due to its mild (sometimes non-existent) symptoms. That all changed in 2015 when the virus came to North America, and the virus's true danger came to light.
Zika-infected persons may experience fever, rash, headache, conjunctivitis, and muscle and joint pain, though in many cases no symptoms are present enough. Even if symptoms are present, they are often so mild that those infected don't go to the hospital, and people infected with the Zika virus don't realize they've been infected at all.
However, Zika's real danger comes from the impact it can have on pregnant women and their babies, which include microcephaly (improper brain development causing the baby's head to be abnormally small), brain malformations, and a number of other birth defects.
Like the others, Zika has no vaccine or cure, making prevention the only option.
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