Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Defy Efforts to Wipe Them Out

Seth Borenstein
San Jose Mercury News
September xx, 2002

Jonathan Day suspends a live chicken below a tree as bait to try to catch the creatures that have killed more humans than any other animal. He gloats: "They don't stand a chance."'

They are mosquitoes.

Despite his bravado, Day, a top mosquito scientist doing research in Florida, knows that in humanity's long war against them, the little bloodsuckers usually prevail. Mosquitoes kill more humans worldwide in five minutes than sharks do in a year.

Insect-borne diseases have ravaged America and the world time and again for centuries. In decades past, America all but vanquished mosquito-borne malaria and dengue and yellow fever from its territory—but mosquitoes always come back with another disease.

Four encephalitis viruses have struck thousands of Americans in the past 20 years. Now comes a deadly U.S. epidemic of West Nile virus.

West Nile virus was an African disease until 1999, but since then it has spread across much of the United States, infecting 371 this year and killing 16. It won't peak until the first week of September.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that the epidemic could count about 1,000 cases and 100 deaths by the end of this year.

The virus has yet to appear in California or along the West Coast, but public health officials say that is just a matter of time.

As alarming and dangerous as West Nile is, scientists such as Day say that the ultimate threat to public health is not the disease of the moment , it is instead the delivery system—the eternal, unconquerable mosquito. Like the cockroach, they say, the mosquito probably would survive nuclear war.

After a few optimistic years when governments talked of "mosquito eradication," experts now readily admit that mosquitoes are so pervasive and so hardy—they develop resistance to everything humankind throws at them—that scientists now hope simply to not be overwhelmed.

History argues that mosquitoes may be tamped down temporarily, their threat contained for a time, but the bugs always come back.

Earlier Epidemics

Continued on Next Page >>


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