A single mosquito bite can have devastating consequences. Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness rampant in tropical regions, kills thousands of people every year, mostly children. For many years now, various countries have been concocting a cure for it, but we haven’t found a permanent solution yet. For now, the only defense we have against the treacherous insect is a strong mosquito control measure.
But mosquitoes don’t actually cause diseases; they just carry the viruses that do. There are also over 3,500 species of mosquitoes, so not every single one you see has the same potentials. The one that carries the Zika virus, for instance, is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It’s different from the Anopheles gambiae, the species that spread malaria. The one that transmits dengue is another species as well, called the Aedes albopictus, which can also carry Zika and chikungunya.
From creating a vaccine to attempting to exterminate all mosquitoes in the world, several measures have been tried and considered to eradicate mosquito-borne illnesses. But can we ever succeed?
Is Killing all Mosquitoes A Feasible Option?
Despite being dubbed the deadliest animal in the world, mosquitoes actually have an important role in the ecosystem.
Mosquito larvae live in the water to provide food for fish and other wildlife. Larger larvae species, like the dragonfly, also feed on them. As for the mosquito larvae’s food, they prey on microscopic organic matter in the water. Adult mosquitoes, on the other hand, act as food for insect-eating animals, such as birds, spiders, dragonflies, lizards, frogs, and bats. With regard to what they eat, it isn’t just blood. In fact, adult mosquitoes mainly consume nectar, plant sap, or honeydew. Only female mosquitoes require a blood meal, which is essential for their reproduction.
Killing off the entire population of a species will result in a major disruption in the food chain. But interestingly, scientists don’t think that such will be the case if we wipe out all mosquitoes. Despite the insect making up the diet of certain animals, nothing solely relies on them for food and nourishment. And while they also help pollinate plants, mosquito pollination isn’t crucial for the plants humans depend on.
So why haven’t we killed all mosquitoes yet? According to scientists, the fact that no animal solely depends on mosquitoes for food is a problem. By exterminating all mosquitoes, another insect will fill in their role, potentially giving way for another species that could be deadlier than the mosquito.
Moral values also hinder scientists from rendering mosquitoes extinct. Many believe that it’s wrong to end a species’ life, no matter how dangerous it is, when we humans are the real threat to animals.
Genetically Modifying Mosquitoes
Since killing off mosquitoes isn’t feasible for now, scientists considered genetically modifying them instead. Singapore started this project in hopes of eradicating dengue and Zika. Their experiments involve infecting male mosquitoes with Wolbachia, a bacterium that disables them from fertilizing the eggs of female mosquitoes. They will be released into the environment afterward so that they can start decreasing the mosquito population.
China and Australia adopted this method as well to stop the spread of dengue in their countries. However, despite its promising results, the public hasn’t fully approved of the experiment yet. As long as the community remains hesitant to let the project run, genetically-modified mosquitoes will stay in the laboratory.
The Dengvaxia Fiasco
In 2015, the Philippine government sent the go signal for the dengue vaccine called “Dengvaxia.” The research for the vaccine was funded by Sanofi Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical company. The vaccinations began the following year, and 830,000 Filipino schoolchildren received the shots. But later on, news broke out about the vaccinated children dying after getting the shots.
Naturally, the children’s deaths resulted in controversy and piling lawsuits. It turns out that Dengvaxia could still cause dengue, and even a more severe case of it, particularly in vaccinated kids who have no history of the disease. Simply put, if you got the shot, and you haven’t had dengue before, you could still acquire the disease and die of it.
Because of the Dengavaxia fiasco, the vaccine has been banned in the country, and no dengue vaccine has been in the works yet. Though not every single child who got vaccinated fell ill, the cases of the ones who did were too serious to be considered a mere side effect. The common illness of the children who died, after all, was a brain hemorrhage.
As of now, prevention is our best weapon against mosquito-borne diseases. Since prevention is better than cure, we shouldn’t complain about the lack of vaccines and treatments. Ultimately, we’re the ones responsible for our own health, so it’s up to us how we’ll protect ourselves from the deadliest animal in the world.