What is the impact of climate change on the virility of the diseases ticks and mosquitoes carry?

By Carolyn Burtt 

With the number of reported cases of Lyme disease having tripled in just over a quarter century and malaria causing thousands of deaths annually, ticks, mosquitoes, and other disease-spreading creatures are on the minds of many scientists.

The association between the increased spread of Lyme disease and the threat of climate change has just begun to be explored, and it brings with it valuable information that many people in the colder northern climates are not yet aware of, given that ticks do not thrive in locations with long freezing periods. Now that climate change has begun to push spring forward each year, ticks have more warm days each year to forage for their next meal in places with warm, humid weather.

Mosquitoes, the insects responsible for diseases of the like of “chikungunya, dengue, malaria, West Nile virus, yellow fever and Zika,” also prefer warm weather to long winters, but the spread of the diseases that mosquitoes carry does not increase any significant amount with the warmer season lasting for longer. The mosquitoes may migrate northward more than they had in the past, but there is an inverse correlation between how warm the weather is and how long a mosquito will live. While the pathogens responsible for the diseases mosquitoes spread prefer warm weather because of the catalytic nature of heat on the pathogen’s development, mosquitoes do not survive long in particularly warm climates. As the warm season increases in length, the length of mosquito season may lengthen, but their virility does not necessarily change. It remains to be seen how the heating of the earth will impact the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, but what we can do in order to prepare for whatever may happen is to stay vigilant and continue to do what we can to protect against mosquitoes.

 

National Public Radio. (2017, April 21). #CuriousGoat: Will Climate Change Help Ticks and Mosquitoes Spread Disease? NPR. Retrieved April 22, 2017 from http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/04/21/523066394/-curiousgoat-will-climate-change-help-ticks-and-mosquitoes-spread-disease