Wednesday February 17, 2016

Zika virus renews calls to eradicate disease-carrying mosquitoes

Malaria, West Nile, Chikungunya, Zika Virus: Is it time to wipe out mosquitoes entirely?

Malaria, West Nile, Chikungunya, Zika Virus: Is it time to wipe out mosquitoes entirely? (turkletom/Flickr cc)

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Malaria, West Nile, Chikungunya and Zika virus are all mosquito-borne illnesses threatening a growing number of countries and experts are clamouring it's time to wipe out the mosquito. 

Can we wipe mosquitoes off the face of the Earth?

According to the Gates Foundation, mosquitoes are found on every continent except Antarctica. The diseases mosquitoes carry kill about 725,000 people a year, 600,000 of them victims of malaria.

According to Jo Lines, a reader in malaria control and vector biology, eliminating specific breeds of mosquitoes, although not easy, could go a long way in preventing public health emergencies such as the Zika virus. However, Lines adds that not all mosquitoes have the potential to infect humans with life-threatening diseases so only invasive species need to be targeted, keeping the balance of nature.

Mosquito Extinction

When it comes to killing humans, mosquitoes are the most deadliest, no other animal comes close, according to The Gates Foundation. (CileSuns92/Flickr cc)

Environmental historian Melanie Challenger has serious concerns about the dangers in eradicating species of living creatures. It is too hard to predict the range of consequences and Challenger adds, living organisms have value beyond just their use to humans.

"When we are looking at really important cases of human need, malaria is a disease not of the mosquito, in many ways, it is a disease of poverty." - Melanie Challenger, author of On Extinction

Over the last two decades, mosquito species have slowly made their way north, although it's too early to say if a Zika carrying mosquito could come to Canada. Bryan Giordano, who studies Zika in Canadian mosquitoes, says it's not a bad idea to eradicate at least two disease carrying species, Aedes aegypti and the aedes albopictus, as they are invasive species and vectors for human-hosted diseases like dengue and Zika.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has recently granted Giordano and the team at Brock University a licence to work with Zika virus.

Should we target certain species of mosquitoes for extinction? Or are the potential ripple effects too dangerous for you?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Karin Marley and Willow Smith.