From Pesky to Pestilent

A pesky, purple cartoon mosquito adorned T-shirts given out by the Massachusetts General Hospital blood donor program in the 1990s, encouraging participants to “Starve a Mosquito – Donate Blood.” This whimsical, uplifting logo once used to promote blood donation might be given second thought today as a plethora of mosquito-caused diseases have been spreading around the world.

Mosquito

In 2015 and 2016, news media covered numerous stories on the Zika virus transmitted by species of mosquitos called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The primary concern being pregnant women infected with Zika having a higher probability of giving birth to children with a serious birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the brain and head are underdeveloped.

One of the areas hardest hit by Zika was Brazil. A July 14, 2017 article on the USA Today website noted a significant spike in microcephaly cases since the outbreak. Specifically, they stated “Brazilian health officials have confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly since the Zika outbreak began, about 10 times more than usual.”

This year, Brazil has been hit with yet another bout of mosquito-induced illness. This time Yellow Fever, a serious viral infection that can lead to organ failure, coma and possibly death. A June 8th, 2017 article in the Arizona Republic reported that at least 263 Brazilians had contracted Yellow Fever and that “the current outbreak is the nation’s worst on record.”

What was even more interesting is a possible link with climate change. According to the Arizona Republic article, the epicenter of the yellow fever outbreak “just recovered from their worst drought in 80 years.” A situation which can be taken advantage of by mosquitos whose “eggs can survive dry weather in a state of suspended animation” for years at a time.  Once the rains come, several years-worth of eggs may hatch at once, facilitating an outbreak.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that climate change is solely responsible for the Yellow Fever outbreak. Still, it does make you wonder what other diseases or disasters are waiting to be unleashed as environmental conditions fluctuate.

Fortunately, there are organizations studying scenarios where climate change and disease may coincide. One of these groups is the World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary role is to assist with international health issues for countries within the United Nations’ system.

WHO has been studying the connections between climate change and infectious disease for years. In 2003, WHO published a lengthy report on “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses.” Chapter 6 of the Report includes several “observed and predicted climate/infectious disease links”, which details how environmental changes may impact 14 different infectious diseases. (Much of their research can be found on their website at www.who.int.)

As the pendulum swings backward on climate change initiatives here in the United States, it’s good to know there are organizations and associations with a more progressive agenda.  At some point, our right-leaning government will have to come back to center and start acknowledging climate change is real. Our planet cannot afford to have one of the top industrialized nations in the world continue to favor the partisan interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Until commonsense prevails and public policy changes, pesky mosquitoes in some parts of the world will continue to be the source of pestilence around the world.

Are we collectively prepared to accept this outcome?

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