Medical Minute – World Mosquito Day – Yes, It’s Actually A Thing

By: Dr. James Lee 

When asked to think of dangerous animals and predators, visions of lions and tigers and bears abound. We do not think of the mosquito, but it has been called the most dangerous animal in the world. Mosquitos are responsible for more than 700,000 deaths annually and hundreds of millions of illnesses annually worldwide. No other animal comes close to these numbers.

The term “Dog Days of Summer” is linked to mosquitos. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, associated the rise in Malaria in late summer with the appearance of the Dog Star, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. This occurs in July and August in the Northern Hemisphere. In Greece and Rome, this corresponded with an increase in drought and disease. In Egypt, this corresponded to flooding on the Nile River. As anyone in Louisiana knows, Mosquitos thrive in areas with heat and stagnant water. Early travelers to the Southeastern United States described the area as, “in the spring a paradise, in the summer a hell, and in the autumn a hospital.”

Mosquito borne illness wiped out a Scottish colony that attempted to set up a trading center in Panama to link the world’s two great oceans. It was a desperate attempt by Scotland to maintain economic independence and this failure caused Scotland to finally accept unification with England and Great Britain was born.

On the other hand, Scotland was protected by a strain of malaria that thwarted the Romans from colonizing Scotland fifteen centuries before. Malaria has halted Hannibal in Italy, Genghis Khan in southern Europe, and European Crusaders from conquering Jerusalem. Closer to home it played a role and sided with North American colonists and Latin American revolutionaries that rebelled against European armies.

Mosquitos also had a role in the development of sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell trait (one normal gene and one sickle gene) are more resistant to severe malarial episodes and therefore are less likely to succumb to the disease. The opposite is true for those with sickle cell disease (carriers of both sickle genes). In areas with increased malaria due to mosquitos, the higher the rate of sickle cell trait. Those with sickle cell disease, do not survive to pass on both genes.

Other than malaria, mosquitos act as vectors for diseases including Yellow Fever, Dengue, West Nile Virus, St. Louis Encephalitis, Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), and Zika, among others. While any of these can be carried into the US by travelers, West Nile, Dengue, and Zika virus constitute the most common vector borne disease in the United States.

August 20, 2022, was World Mosquito Day. This honors Sir Ronald Ross, a British army surgeon working in India who proved that malaria was transmitted by mosquitos on this day in 1897. This led to a new understanding on how to track and prevent the spread of malaria. Ross won the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1902.

You can reduce your risk of mosquito bites by following a few simple tips. Eliminate standing water on your property including trash cans, buckets, or birdbaths. Mosquitos can breed in 14 days in minute amounts of water. Change the water in your birdbaths weekly or add a fountain. Maintain the screens on windows and doors. Use mosquito repellent anytime you are outside, concentrating on your ankles, feet, lower legs, and wrists. Light colored clothing and thick looser fits offer more protection from mosquitos. Avoid the outdoors at dusk and dawn as these are prime feeding times for mosquitos. Interestingly, drinking a beer, having more bacteria on your skin, and having blood type O have all been shown to increase the number of mosquito bites.

Dr. James Lee serves as the Coroner of Winn Parish. He is a General Surgeon and Surgical Oncologist who has been practicing in Winnfield for over ten years. Dr. Lee attended the University of Colorado for his medical degree. He completed his residency in Surgery at the University of Oklahoma before completing a fellowship in Surgical Oncology and Endoscopy at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. Dr. Lee and his wife Scarlett live in Winnfield with their son and are active in the community.