As Diseases Proliferate: Mosquitoes Are Becoming Public Enemy No. 1

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Rather than tackle each disease individually, researchers need to develop drugs that treat "whole classes of viruses," Fauci and Morens wrote.

But just diagnosing diseases as new as Zika can be difficult. There are no commercial tests to diagnose it, so blood samples have to be sent to labs capable of running sophisticated tests.

In many ways, the USA's wealth protects it from mosquito-borne diseases, Adalja said. The USA eliminated malaria in the mid-20th century by draining swamps where mosquitoes bred and killing them with pesticides such as DDT.

Today, air conditioning allows Americans to spend more time indoors, where they're protected by window screens, Adalja said. In Texas, dengue spreads far more commonly on the Mexican side of the border than on the U.S. side, even though residents live just a few miles apart.

In developing countries, controlling mosquitoes is more difficult. Many people live in crowded slums without drainage or sanitation -- conditions that are still found in some parts of the USA, such as the Gulf Coast, Hotez said. Climate change is also allowing tropical diseases to move north.

Researchers "urgently" need to better understand these viruses, Fauci and Morens wrote. In particular, researchers need to study why Zika virus has spread so far, so quickly, and why it seems more dangerous than in the past, Adalja said.

In their paper, Fauci and Morens noted: "We clearly need to up our game with broad and integrated research that expands understanding of the complex ecosystems in which agents of future pandemics are aggressively evolving."

A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes kept in a container at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, on January 8, 2016 in Sao Paulo,

via USAToday

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