Here’s a mosquito bite you don’t want to look forward to!


James Gathany

Most people hate mosquitoes, and who could blame them? At best, we associate mosquitoes with itchy red bites. They also happen to be our most deadly animal adversary: 400,000 people died of malaria alone in 2015, which was a huge improvement from death tolls in recent years. The recent spike in Zika cases — and the spread of the disease into new regions like North America, thanks to global warming — has researchers working even harder to understand how the insects got so good at transmitting pathogens and how we might stop them.

❝ But if you think Zika sounds bad, just imagine contracting that virus and another exotic ailment from the same irritating little mosquito. According to new research from Colorado State University, that’s totally possible: The scientists were able to infect mosquitoes with both Zika and chikungunya, a virus that causes fever and joint pain in humans. And when they tested the amount of mosquito spit that would usually go into a single bite, they found enough copies of those viruses to simultaneously infect a human host. The team also confirmed previous reports that chikungunya and dengue virus could shack up in the same mosquito. It remains to be seen whether a nasty trifecta is possible, but all three of these viruses have been spotted in North America in recent years…

❝ The findings, Greg Ebel readily admits, are still preliminary—and the results don’t suggest that these concurrent outbreaks are common. In fact, he and his team aren’t even sure what would happen if a human was simultaneously infected with Zika and chikungunya at the same time…

But while it’s tempting to freak out over the possibility of a double or triple viral infection, Ebel and his colleagues are more concerned with how the viruses might interact inside mosquitoes than they are with theoretical human symptoms. The human scenario is a little too far-fetched to prompt immediate concern, but if the viruses behave strangely when they end up in the same mosquito, that could have implications for the transmission rate of any of those illnesses in humans.

Frequently, I note the unforeseen successes that roll out of basic research. Scary stuff happens as readily, perhaps more often. All the more reason to continue searches simply to extend human knowledge.

One thought on “Here’s a mosquito bite you don’t want to look forward to!

  1. Anopheles Annie says:

    “Florida officials move forward with GM mosquitoes, despite bitter foes” http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/swatting-away-angry-locals-florida-officials-approve-gm-mosquito-trial/ “…The trial involves Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been engineered by the British biotech company, Oxitec, to pass on lethal genetics. A. aegypti are exotic and invasive to the United States, including Florida. Only females can bite, and they’re able to transmit viruses, such as Zika. To knock back the bugs, Oxitec plans to release millions of engineered males—which naturally don’t bite—to mate with wild females and produce dud offspring. In similar trials in Panama and Brazil, the engineered mosquitoes were able to zap up to 90 percent of wild populations for short periods.
    Because Oxitec will release so many mosquitoes, there’s a chance a small number of biting females may slip through. However, they wouldn’t transmit genetic modifications or be any more dangerous than a typical mosquito.”

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