When it comes to mosquito-borne diseases, malaria is a major player. According to the World Health Organization, two hundred and seven million people contracted malaria in 2012, which almost equals the entire population of the United States. In the end, eight hundred thousand of those infected with malaria died from the disease. At one point in time, Americans feared that malaria carrying mosquitoes would find their way into the United States. Luckily, America has remained largely malaria-free when compared to the rest of the world. But why? Tropical regions are full of malaria carrying mosquitoes, but residents of the southern states never seem to contract malaria. Also, there are still outbreaks of malaria that occur within South America. Since America is so close to these malaria hotspots, why do we Americans worry more about Zika than malaria? Well, there is a good reason why America has never seen a major malaria epidemic, and it has to do with the building of the Panama Canal.
Way back in 1881, the French attempted to build a canal linking the caribbean sea to the Pacific Ocean, just like our Panama Canal. Unfortunately for the French, twenty two thousand workmen had died in the region by contracting malaria and yellow fever. The French had no choice but to abandon the project. However, in 1904, the United States bought the land and resumed the building of the canal. The only thing standing in their way was, of course, the heavy mosquito population.
It was soon decided to send US troops to the region in order to kill as many mosquitoes as possible. Every habitat that harbored mosquitoes was destroyed. For example, lakes and other large bodies of water were simply blown up, or tainted with insecticides, and swamps were drained. All buildings were sprayed with insecticide, and high risk buildings were doused with insecticide. The cost of this large-scale pest-control treatment was high, as each year one hundred and twenty four thousand gallons of insecticide were used.
In the end five thousand Americans died from mosquito-borne illnesses, mostly malaria. The project was a success, but now some researchers worry that insecticide resistant mosquitoes could one day thrive in this area. In any case, this military operation serves as the primary reason as to why America has never dealt with malaria outbreaks.
Do you think that insect-resistant mosquitoes could result from the overuse of insecticides, even if this overuse occurred more than one hundred years ago?