Mosquitoes go through four stages in their life-cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult or imago. Adult females lay their eggs in standing water, which can be a salt-marsh, a lake, a puddle, a natural reservoir on a plant, or an artificial water container such as a plastic bucket. The first three stages are aquatic and last 5–14 days, depending on the species and the ambient temperature; eggs hatch to become larvae, then pupae. The adult mosquito emerges from the pupa as it floats at the water surface. Adults live for 4–8 weeks.
Mosquitoes have mouthparts that are adapted for piercing the skin of plants and animals. While males typically feed on nectar and plant juices, the female needs to obtain nutrients from a “blood meal” before she can produce eggs.
There are about 3,500 species of mosquitoes found throughout the world. In some species of mosquito, the females feed on humans, and are therefore vectors for a number of infectious diseases affecting millions of people per year. Some scientists believe that eradicating mosquitoes would not have serious consequences for any ecosystems.
Mosquitoes are a vector agent that carries disease-causing viruses and parasites from person to person without catching the disease themselves.
The principal mosquito borne diseases are the viral diseases yellow fever, dengue fever and Chikungunya, transmitted mostly by the Aedes aegypti, and malaria carried by the genus Anopheles. Though originally a public health concern, HIV is now thought to be almost impossible for mosquitoes to transmit.
Mosquitoes are estimated to transmit disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia and much of Asia with millions of resulting deaths. At least 2 million people annually die of these diseases.
Methods used to prevent the spread of disease, or to protect individuals in areas where disease is endemic include Vector control aimed at mosquito eradication, disease prevention, using prophylactic drugs and developing vaccines and prevention of mosquito bites, with insecticides, nets and repellents. Since most such diseases are carried by “elderly” females, scientists have suggested focusing on these to avoid the evolution of resistance.
Mosquito bites and treatment
Mosquitoes prefer some people over others. The preferential victim’s sweat simply smells better than others because of the proportions of the carbon dioxide, octenol and other compounds that make up body odor. The powerful semiochemical that triggers the mosquito’s keen sense of smell is nonanal. A large part of the mosquito’s sense of smell, or olfactory system, is devoted to sniffing out human targets. Of 72 types of odour receptor on its antennae, at least 27 are tuned to detect chemicals found in perspiration.
Visible, irritating bites are due to an immune response from the binding of IgG and IgE antibodies to antigens in the mosquito’s saliva. Some of the sensitizing antigens are common to all mosquito species, whereas others are specific to certain species. There are both immediate hypersensitivity reactions (Types I & III) and delayed hypersensitivity reactions (Type IV) to mosquito bites (see Clements, 2000).
There are several commercially available anti-itch medications, including those taken orally, such as Benadryl, or topically applied antihistamines and, for more severe cases, corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone and triamcinolone. Many effective home remedies exist, including calamine lotion and vinegar. A paste of meat tenderizer containing papain and water breaks down the proteins in the mosquito saliva. By using a brush to scratch the area surrounding the bite and running hot water (around 49 °C) over it can alleviate itching for several hours by reducing histamine-induced skin blood flow. Plain household sudsy ammonia is also a good treatment, ammonia being the main ingredient in Tender’s AfterBite remedy, especially as a first wash option if applied immediate after multibite exposure. An even simpler, yet effective remedy can be achieved by applying a piece of adhesive tape over the affected area, or by sucking it with a drinking straw; creating enough counter tension on the surface of the skin to alleviate the itch.
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