Sunday, May 5, 2013

Controlling the Enemy

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Controlling the Enemy

What creature on earth is responsible for more human deaths than any other? Maybe you’re thinking about monstrous snakes, fierce alligators, tigers, elephants, or some other powerful predator.

You may be surprised to know that many scientists credit the mosquito as being one of the most dangerous animals on earth. By virtue of their ability to carry so many potentially deadly diseases, especially malaria, the mosquito has been a formidable enemy of humankind throughout history.

Some historians list malaria as one of the factors in the downfall of the Roman Empire. The settlement of Jamestown was devastated by fever carried by mosquitoes. During World War II 500,000 soldiers were infected, causing a significant health problem among the forces.

The term malaria comes from the Italian words for “bad air” so named because it occurred near swampy areas. Later it was discovered that a species of plasmodium carried by the insect was the cause of malaria.

In this area, we joke about the size of the Hatteras mosquitoes, but these relatively small creatures are the subject of much angst throughout the world. The only place where you could escape them on earth is Antarctica.

In the world of etymology, they are known as vector organisms, which means they are agents for transmitting an infectious pathogen into another living organism. There are 3,500 species, but not all of them carry disease such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and eastern equine encephalitis virus (Triple E).

In 2010, the World Health Organization reported 219 million cases of malaria and 660,000 to 1.2 million deaths from the disease that now affects forty percent of the world. Although great strides have been made since 2000 in controlling malaria worldwide, underdeveloped countries are still devastated by its occurrence among children. One out of eight children in sub-Saharan Africa dies from disease before reaching age five.

Insecticides, repellents, and insecticidal bed nets are the main means of preventing the spread of the disease. When DDT could be used as a pesticide, control of the insect led to a drop in the disease. Efforts to develop a vaccine have not been successful, but work is continuing.

In areas of the world where the disease is still prevalent, economic growth is slow and the resulting poverty makes health care and prevention unavailable to most of the population. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the economic progress of the American South was affect by the same cycle of disease and poverty.

In the past decade, the distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets, improved diagnostic tests, and better treatment have reduced the deaths from malaria by more than fifty percent around the world. Costs of these measures have also declined making them more available.

Global foreign aid and scientific measures being taken in this area of disease control has had a huge effect in making the world a better place for all.

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