In modern times, it’s common knowledge that mosquitoes spread disease. However, once upon a time, to think such a thing was considered outrageous.

Carlos Finlay, a Cuban epidemiologist who was the first to theorize that mosquitoes might carry yellow fever, was made fun of by his colleagues in the early 1880s when he presented his ideas.

We now know that he was right. And while Dr. Walter Reed, an American, gets most of the credit for proving that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes, Reed used Finlay’s research as a foundation for his own experiments and actually credited Finlay in many of his writings.

And, of course, we now understand that mosquitoes spread many other dangerous diseases besides yellow fever and malaria. These include encephalitis, Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue and others.

Only Female Mosquitoes Spread Disease?

Diseases spread by mosquitoes are called vector diseases. That’s because mosquitoes are vectors – organisms or insects that carry a disease and transmit it from one human to another or from animals to humans.

Only female mosquitoes carry disease. That’s because only the female has a proboscis, the long tube that sucks blood. The female draws blood because she needs the protein from the blood to produce her eggs.

If a female mosquito bites an infected person or animal, it can pick up the virus along with its meal. Then the virus reproduces in the mosquito, without harming it. When the infected mosquito bites, it injects saliva and anticoagulant, and that’s how it can spread the virus to another person when it bites them.

Mosquitoes-Borne Diseases Are Becoming More Prevalent

Not only do mosquitoes cause more than a million deaths and many more illnesses each year worldwide, but mosquito-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent across the globe. According to the World Health Organization, for example, dengue has risen 30-fold in the past three decades, and outbreaks of diseases like Zika have been reported in more and more places.

In the continental U.S., West Nile Virus is now the leading cause of vector-borne disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There have also been Zika outbreaks in the U.S., in addition to confirmed cases of other diseases spread by mosquitoes, like encephalitis, dengue and chikungunya, among others.

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