Aedes Aegypti Mosquitoes in History

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Over the last couple of years, the world has come to know Aedes aegypti mosquitoes quite well. These mosquitoes, also known as yellow fever mosquitoes, are the main carriers of the awful Zika virus. But this species of mosquito already has a long history of harming humans. They’ve even affected cities and countries as a whole. Believe it or not, these little, annoying insects have been the culprit behind many disease outbreaks that have triggered different historical events.

The Spanish-American War

Let’s start by going back to the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes took out 13 American soldiers for every person who died fighting the Spanish army in Cuba. The disease responsible for these deaths was yellow fever.

At that point nobody in the U.S. army yet believed that mosquitoes could be the cause of yellow fever. Two decades earlier, a Cuban doctor, Carlos J. Finlay, had already discovered the link between mosquitoes and yellow fever, though.

Despite this, they still believed that the cause of yellow fever could be the lowlands where the army had set up camp during the war. That’s why an army officer named Teddy Roosevelt took it upon himself to write a letter to the secretary of war about this assumption.

After he didn’t receive a positive answer from the higher-ups, he released this information to the press. This was possibly the first-ever news leak in the U.S. 

A while later, they moved the troops to higher ground, thinking that it would help. But what the army really should have done was look into the medical research of the enemy to really know how to deal with these insects.

The Battle of Saipan

Did you know that Dengue fever also has the nickname “breakbone fever”? This is thanks to the fact that it’s mostly what it feels like to have Dengue fever. The disease efficiently weakened the American army, causing panic among the higher ranks.

During the American invasion of Saipan in 1944, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes disabled around 500 soldiers each day. They did this because they carried the Dengue fever that quickly spread among U.S. soldiers.

They fought back against the mosquitoes by blasting an area measuring nearly 25 sq. mile (64.7 km²) with kerosene mixed with DDT insecticide. At the time, this was the best insecticide to use to fight mosquitoes.

Thankfully, they succeeded in eradicating the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and also won the war. Who knows how it would have turned out if the kerosene and DDT mix hadn’t worked?

U.S. Yellow Fever Epidemics

The U.S. Army wasn’t the only party to suffer from yellow fever in the late 19th century. There was a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1878, for example. It caused most of the city’s residents to flee, leaving behind an empty town.

Yellow Fever 19th century

A decade later, the same almost happened in Jacksonville. But the neighboring cities blocked the roads out of the city, so the people of Jacksonville couldn’t escape. The city then officially resulted to drastic measures to stop the epidemic. These tactics included burning the hotel where the first victim fell ill with yellow fever and using cannons at random. They sadly didn’t know that the mosquitoes carry this disease, so it’s not spread like a virus or illness.

That year, the death toll rose to 400. These two cities weren’t even the first to suffer in such a catastrophic manner. In the late 18th century, east coast cities, like Baltimore, Pennsylvania, and more, suffered yellow fever epidemics. This went so far that priests even stopped administering last rites to the dying because there were so many on their deathbeds.

The yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia also was one of the main reasons why the newly created U.S. consolidated their plants to place their capital in Washington D.C. while the business community moved to New York. Before the epidemic, the government and big business were all in Philadelphia. People thought that Philadelphia was going to become the capital of the U.S.

The yellow fever epidemic literally changed U.S. history. This is why the White House is in Washington D.C., but Wall Street is in New York.

What’s Next?

Now, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are at it again. They’re now causing destruction and panic with the Zika virus. Some birth defects have been linked to this disease. South American officials announced that women shouldn’t get pregnant for at least two years, out of fear of Zika. All the while, while Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are still spreading yellow fever and the Dengue virus, too.

Will the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes ever stop their crusade to change the world? Only time will only tell.

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