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First-of-its-kind research uncovers true cost of growing diseases threatening billions: 'This … burden needs to be appropriately quantified'

The actual cost? Nearly $95 billion.

The actual cost? Nearly $95 billion.

Photo Credit: iStock

When it comes to mosquito-borne illness, money doesn't usually come to mind. But a new study has quantified the true cost of these diseases — and it's alarmingly high.

What's happening?

The study, conducted by several teams of international scientists and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, assessed the direct and indirect costs of diseases spread by the invasive Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These two species transmit dengue fever, chikungunya virus, and Zika, among others.

In its abstract, the authors write that the study presents a "comprehensive, global-scale synthesis of studies reporting these economic costs, spanning 166 countries and territories over 45 years."

The actual cost? Nearly $95 billion.

Phys.org posted a report on the study, noting that the average yearly cost has increased 14-fold in the past several decades. "At the same time," the report stated, "investment in the management and prevention of these diseases has remained stable, representing only a fraction of total costs. The expected benefits of implementing effective, sustainable prevention strategies are colossal."

According to the study, as relayed by ScienceDirect, "this economic burden needs to be appropriately quantified if the efforts of policymakers and stakeholders are to be facilitated, and management decisions and actions strengthened."

Why is this so concerning?

One reason mosquito-borne illness is of particular concern is that the changing climate is breeding more mosquitoes. Higher temperatures facilitate a longer breeding season for these invasive species and substantially extend their suitable climates. 

According to a study published by The Lancet, these factors will expose an additional 4.7 billion people to illnesses like dengue and malaria by 2070. This will result in surging medical expenses; in South America, over 5 million dengue cases sent thousands of people to the hospital within weeks of each other.

As detailed in the first study, there are also numerous indirect and ripple effects of the disease transmission, from loss of work to impacted family members and more.

What's being done to manage the spread?

According to Phys.org, the study's recommended preventive actions — which the report describes as "a common goal of sustainable, integrated vector risk management, as recommended by international bodies" — would "significantly reduce" the economic damages.

Obviously, any widespread solution would necessitate international collaboration. But individuals wanting to help limit the spread of invasive mosquitoes can do their part by voting for pro-climate political candidates, limiting planet-warming pollution by using public transportation, using cold water for laundry to save energy, or even something as simple as unplugging those pesky "energy vampires" at night.

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