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Blame the Pathogen, Not the Needle

August 21, 2018 - 07:30 -- Beverly Anaele

Yesterday, August 20th, was World Mosquito Day, which may seemingly sound like a day to honor the mosquito. Yet, more often than not, the narrative that permeates posts and notifications for this awareness day details of how bothersome the mosquito is, how undesirable, and how evil. Communicators may knowingly or unknowingly paint a portrait of a mosquito who intentionally picks up pathogens involved with spreading malaria, Zika, West Nile, or another, then buzzes deviously around spreading them to any and all unsuspecting humans like pollinating honey bees. Humans are the victims; mosquitoes are the perpetrators. Or so we've been led to believe.

When thinking about vector transmissible diseases like malaria or Zika, we rapidly note that the mosquito houses the illness, but we speak quite less of the fact that we do as well. We must not forget that for something to be spread, it must first be picked up from an infected individual. Hence, there are two hosts.

"But we as humans beings don't go around infecting our fellow organisms like mosquitoes do," one may say. "Therefore, they are the criminals with malicious intent."

Frankly, female mosquitoes only bite their 'victims' in order to obtain nutrients for egg deposition. They solely want to reproduce! There is no sinister plan underneath it all as during that process, some -- not all -- of these mosquitoes inadvertently pick up the pathogen from a host and transmit it to another being that they only regard as their next source of nutrients. We cannot truly blame an organism for drawing blood simply for the initial survival of their offspring when we kill animals for food for the long-term sake of ours.

Despite the awareness of the non-malicious purpose behind mosquito bites, perceiving these beings in a positive light can still be somewhat problematic. To help with this new view, think of mosquitoes as needles. Both are quite imperative: mosquitoes act as a food source for migratory birds in the Arctic tundra [1]; and needles have a host of useful applications from blood donations to administration of prescribed medicine. If a needle is not sterile and was previously used on an infected individual, the next unknowing recipient will contract whatever illness was picked up. Does that, however, mean that we should work to get rid of all needles because they are potential vectors of diseases? No -- needles are extremely vital for the reasons listed above and more; hence, we work on prevention (making sure the needle is sterile before using it) rather than elimination of the host. Likewise, mosquitoes have the potential to transmit diseases, but only if they are first infected. These little beings are essential to the ecosystem for the survival of other organisms that we know of (some scientists postulate that a loss of mosquitoes in the Arctic tundra could result in a more than 50% drop [1] in the aforementioned bird population), and quite possibly ones that we do not know of yet.

So on World Mosquito Day, let's turn our focus away from blame-shaming female biting mosquitoes, and instead target the pathogen. For isn't a pathogen the real cause of a disease in question?

Reference

Fang, J. Ecology: a world without mosquitoes. Nat 2010, 466, 432-434 Doi:10.1038/466432a. Available online: https://www.nature.com/news/2010/100721/full/466432a.html (accessed on 21 August 2018).