The insecticides that target insects that spread disease clash with evolution, nature’s most vigorous defense. Researchers discovered on Wednesday that mosquitoes in Cambodia and Vietnam are becoming increasingly resistant to an insecticide frequently used.
Aedes aegypti, a disease vector that carries dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, zika, and other illnesses, is the subject of a paper published in the journal Science Advances. The researchers discovered that 78 percent of the mosquitoes in Cambodia and Vietnam had a mutation that indicated resistance to permethrin in tests in the lab. This insecticide belongs to the pyrethroid family.
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Although that mutation has been observed, a mosquito population has never had it occur so frequently. The latest research also discovered that mosquitoes in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, had many mutations that conferred exceptional resistance to two different insecticides. Two insecticides were sprayed; one killed 10% of the mosquitoes, while the other killed none.
As populations of Aedes aegypti and other species are increasing and expanding their geographic range as a result of climate change, urbanization, and globalization, insecticide resistance in mosquitoes is becoming a more significant public health concern.
The latest research is a grim reminder that mosquito control measures must be just as flexible as the insects themselves.
The epidemic and the development of SARS-CoV-2 are also echoed in the research. The coronavirus has frequently changed in ways that increase its ability to spread and enable it to dodge antibodies created by previous infections or vaccinations.
“I believe our work will help us understand that evolution is a powerful force,” Shinji Kasai, lead author of the study and director of the department of medical entomology at Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said in an email.
Although this mutation in mosquitoes is still confined to Southeast Asia, Aedes aegypti is a hardy traveler. It lays eggs that can survive for months in dry conditions and can spread via global trade routes, Kasai said.
“Aedes mosquitoes can inhabit anywhere. They like artificial water containers, including jars, used tires, plastic cups, basins and pods,” he said. “I think it is impossible to eliminate such water containers.”
Although the mutation has not been found in Southeast Asia outside of Vietnam and Cambodia, the report adds that it may be migrating there and that if it does, it might pose an “unprecedented danger to the control of dengue fever” other mosquito-borne illnesses.
The Washington Post: High number of mosquitoes found with mutation that resists insecticides.https://t.co/M1swxKnJto
— peter loyd (@apbioloyd) December 22, 2022
According to the study by Kasai and 26 coauthors, the number of dengue illnesses has increased thirty-fold over the last fifty years, with modelers estimating that there are 390 million infections per year.
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According to Kasai, places without pyrethroid insecticides are unlikely to support the growth of mosquitoes with this mutation. He also provided a broad perspective on the ongoing conflict between people and mosquitoes, which does not assume an eventual eradication of the pesky insects.
“All organisms live as cogs on this planet and may be necessary to sustain the planet,” he said in the email. “I think the most desirable world is one in which mosquitoes can be controlled to the extent that people do not have to feel the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.”
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