The words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. I is also suggested that when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases, too!
Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans and philosopher Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.”
It is said that as far as the 3rd century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion.
It wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that it was scientifically established that mosquitoes transmitted malaria. Before then, the theory that holding that fevers travelled independently, through fetid environments, held sway, reflected in the very word “malaria”: we thought we were the victims of “bad air.” To even think that these tiny insects might be affecting our lives so profoundly was beyond our imagination.
Malaria has many strains, of varying deadliness, but survival rates are lowest for people encountering new varieties to which they have not been “seasoned”—to which they have gained no immunity and it is estimated that mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause—fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived.
They are now being referred to as “the apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”
The insects are still killing more than 800,000 people a year, primarily in Africa and it is not a fact to be ignored that their enormous potential for destruction is a timely one for all of us. Globalization is helping to spread a new generation of mosquito-borne illnesses which was once confined only to the tropical areas of the world, such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika, all of which were first identified in humans only in 1952.
Meanwhile, climate change is dramatically expanding the ranges in which mosquitoes and the diseases they carry can thrive. A recent study has estimated that, within the next 50 years, a billion more people could be exposed to mosquito-borne infections than are already in existence today.
(excerpts from The New Yorker)
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