What You Can - and Cannot - Catch from Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are the carriers of a wide variety of diseases. In much of the world, mosquitoes are a major public health menace, it being estimated that they transmit disease to more than 69 million people annually. They are a common pest in virtually every corner of the world, having one of the most impressive ranges of climates in all of the insect world.

But there's one piece of good news: they can't give you AIDS. HIV virus is specific to human bodily fluids, requiring blood, sexual fluids, or breast milk. Take an HIV virus out of the human fluid pool for more than a few seconds and it's dead. That's one disease off the list, but it's small comfort when the mosquito is capable of giving you an astounding array of other diseases, infections, and parasites.

The primary category of mosquito-borne diseases is the zoonotic variety. "Zoonotic" means it can be transmitted across multiple species, as opposed to being restricted to infecting one species. Not only mosquitoes, but fleas, ticks, lice, and other blood-sucking parasites are nature's handiest methods of porting diseases from one creature to the next - it could be argued that if there were no blood-sucking vermin, there would possibly be no such thing as a zooanotic disease!

The one getting the most attention in the United States as of late is the West Nile virus. Almost anything with warm blood seems to be able to play host to West Nile virus - it infects mainly birds, but is transmittable to humans, horses, dogs, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, and rabbits. And of course, the main carriers of it are mosquitoes. West Nile Virus, like HIV, has no known human vaccine. It was first diagnosed in Uganda in 1937, and first appeared in North America in 1999. An interesting fact is that crows are particularly susceptible to it, and so the sudden deaths of many crows in an area is a tip-off that there could be a West Nile outbreak.

The other diseases that you can catch from mosquito bite seem to go on forever. Take a deep breath and get ready to say: yellow fever, dengue fever, epidemic polyarthritis, Rift Valley fever, Ross River Fever. Oops, did I forget to mention malaria? Yes, malaria, a historically ravenous scourge of the human population, has always been linked to mosquitoes. In particular the Panama Canal project had trouble with a malaria outbreak, which contributed to the 27,000 deaths associated with that project.

Now here's one that should be on the final exam: What is the link between mosquitoes and elephantiasis? Lymphatic Filariasis, the parasite, is transmitted by mosquito bite as well. While this particular infection is limited to tropical regions, ending up looking like the Elephant Man is still just one more gross reason to avoid a mosquito at all costs.