Mosquitoes are infamous for carrying a range of deadly and dangerous diseases and are able to transmit them to humans with little to no difficulty. In this article, I address the most common illnesses carried by mosquitoes, describes their symptoms, and offers practical advice about what to do if you are bitten.
What are mosquitoes?
It’s not for nothing that the mosquito has earned the moniker, ‘most dangerous animal on the planet.’ Other ferocious beasts like sharks or alligators might be able to physically rip you to pieces, but the mosquito has a far more efficient way of doing things. The mosquito can bring you down from the inside.
Every year, this little bug infects millions of people with a whole host of unpleasant and sometimes deadly diseases. In UK, you might be more ignorant about the dangers of this insect as mosquitoes generally favour tropical climates, keeping them far away from British Isles, unless you happen to bring their viruses back with you from your travels.
However, it is important that if you are venturing abroad this year, you are aware of how lethal mosquitoes can be so that you can recognise any suspicious symptoms and take steps to prevent yourself from being bitten. This article shall address some of the most common mosquito transmitted diseases and give you an idea of what to look out for!
What diseases do mosquitoes carry?
The diseases carried by mosquitoes have always been dangerous and in the past, were frequently deadly. In recent years, scientific advancement has led to the discovery of vaccines and treatments that have reduced the high mortality rate associated with the conditions. However you should always be vigilant – more often than not, how quickly your symptoms are diagnosed can make the difference between a successful recovery and a more life-threatening scenario.
- Zika: Zika is spread by the same species of mosquito that is responsible for transmitting Dengue fever and the Chikungunya virus. The disease is commonplace in tropical countries like Brazil, India and some areas of Africa. Zika can be considered very dangerous, especially because noticeable symptoms, such as joint pain or headaches, will only manifest in 25% of sufferers. This means that most people who have Zika, do not even realise that they are ill and the disease can be spread through sexual intercourse and even from pregnant mother’s to their unborn child, sometimes causing unfortunate birth defects. There is no known cure or effective treatment for Zika and it is likely that a diagnosis will require a blood test
- Yellow Fever: Yellow fever gets its name from the main symptom it perpetuates, jaundice. The disease is not known to be as deadly as malaria or Zika, mainly because most countries demand that visiting tourists be inoculated against the condition first. This has managed to keep the illness from becoming too widespread; nevertheless, it should still be treated seriously.
Similarly to some other mosquito inhibited diseases on this list, yellow fever symptoms do not always manifest in some sufferer. When they do appear, normally after a week of being bitten, they can include headaches, vomiting and a loss of appetite. It is rare, but some patients can enter a secondary phase of the condition which is much more life-threatening. Symptoms can reappear but in a much more severe way, affecting the internal organs and often resulting in death if not treated immediately
- Malaria: Malaria is a deadly disease normally spread by the Anopheles species of mosquitoes. It can be found in over a 100 different countries although, if diagnoses quickly enough, it can be treated successfully. The WHO estimates that 300-500 million cases of malaria appear worldwide every year. Malaria can often form a vicious cycle, with mosquitoes infecting humans and subsequently feeding off infected blood, perpetuating a circle of contamination. There are certain anti-malarial drugs that can be taken if you are planning on visiting a high-risk country; however it is always best to take preventative measures as well. Unlike Zika, Malaria does have recognisable and identifiable symptoms, like fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and sweats. These normally appear between 1-3 weeks after being bitten and if you notice any side-effects, no matter how slight, you should always consult a doctor as soon as possible
- West Nile Virus: West Nile Virus is actually an illness that was originally associated with birds rather than mosquitoes. When the insects began to feed on the infected blood, however, they turned into the main carriers of the condition. The symptoms of the West Nile Virus don’t often present themselves in sufferers, with 8 in 10 patients showing no recognisable symptoms at all. The main concern when it comes to West Nile Virus is the effect it can have on your brain and spinal tissue. Occasionally the disease will become fatal, causing a deadly inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, known as encephalomyelitis and encephalitis respectively. If you experience extreme symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, disorientation or a violent headache, then you have to seek urgent medical attention. People with a weakened immune system or those who are over the age of 50 are most at risk
- Dengue Fever: It is estimated that dengue fever occurs in 390 million people each year worldwide. As with most mosquito borne diseases, dengue fever typically appears in countries with a topical climate. The symptoms of dengue fever often appear very similar to flu virus symptoms, including intense headaches, raised temperature and vomiting. They usually manifest within 7 days of being bitten and can last for up to 2 weeks. There is a variant of dengue fever, known as severe dengue fever, which can be considered deadly, especially in the elderly. Serious symptoms like abdominal pain, rushed breathing and blood in your vomit can occur, causing respiratory problems and organ damage. Very recently though, a vaccination was discovered, Dengvaxia, and it was introduced into high-risk countries
- Chikungunya Virus: The name ‘Chikungunya’ comes from the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted,’ referring to the ailments most common symptom, joint pain. Although other symptoms can present themselves, like fatigue, sickness and skin rash, joint pain remains the most prominent and debilitating side-effect of the illness. Most sufferers do recover but, particularly in the elderly, joint pain can linger for months, sometimes years, becoming a chronic issue. The mortality rate for chikungunya is relatively low, and it can be treated by relieving the primary symptoms.
What should I do if I am bitten?
If you have been bitten by a mosquito, the first thing you should do is speak to a doctor. Your chances of contracting a deadly disease from the bugs is still relatively rare, but a doctor will be able to confirm whether your bite is superficial or whether you are developing a more serious illness. Prevention however, is arguably better than a cure so the best thing you can do is to try and avoid being bitten in the first place. Check out my Top 10 Tips for Preventing Mosquito Bites to find out more information!