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Scientists sound alarm after finding evidence of disease-carrying insects migrating to new areas: 'The link ... is real'

Protection against these insects is becoming more important than ever.

Protection against these insects is becoming more important than ever.

Photo Credit: iStock

Rising global temperatures cause a number of health risks, including ideal conditions for mosquitoes. While these bugs are nothing more than nuisances on their own, the diseases they carry can be deadly. Grist reported that warmer weather is bringing mosquitoes — and malaria — to altitudes they've never reached before.

What's happening?

Mosquitoes are sensitive to air temperature, staying away from cold areas. Because the air generally gets colder the higher you go, there is a limit to how high mosquitos will range, leaving areas above a certain elevation safe from malaria.

However, as the Earth's average temperature rises because of air pollution, the altitude mosquitoes can reach is also rising, and safe areas are shrinking. According to Grist, a recent study by Georgetown University found that the cutoff elevation was rising by 21 feet per year, exposing hundreds of square miles of land that was previously mosquito-free.

"As it gets warmer at higher altitudes with climate change and all of these other environmental changes, then mosquitoes can survive higher up the mountain," Manisha Kulkarni, a professor and malaria researcher at the University of Ottawa, told Grist.

Why does this expansion matter?

Mosquitoes are the carriers for malaria, a disease that killed 619,000 people in 2021, according to the World Health Organization.

Grist reported that the vast majority of malaria deaths, 96%, occur in Africa. That may make the problem seem far away for Americans. But in 2023, the United States had its first malaria outbreaks in 15 years, with cases appearing in Florida and Texas. Researchers anticipate that the spread of mosquitoes and other heat-induced changes will lead to severely increased disease risks worldwide as the Earth gets hotter — and we aren't prepared.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

Mosquito protection is becoming more important than ever. Some plants — such as marigolds, catmint, scented geraniums, lemongrass, rosemary, and mint — naturally repel mosquitoes with their scents, so planting them in your garden is a good start. 

If there is standing water around your home, even small puddles, mosquitoes can lay eggs in it. Try to get rid of the water, or apply mosquito dunks, which are an eco-friendly solution that targets mosquito larvae specifically.

Grist also reported that a new malaria vaccine is bringing hope to many people in the regions at greatest risk, and another group of scientists has developed a new form of mosquito spray.

Additionally, bringing down Earth's temperature would also bring down the mosquito population and the spread of malaria. "We see that when temperature goes down, the overall trend of cases also goes down, even in the absence of intervention," Pamela Martinez, a researcher from the University of Illinois, told Grist.

"The link between climate change and expansion or change in mosquito distributions is real," said Doug Norris, a specialist in mosquitoes at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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