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Mosquitos kill more people than any other creature, the CDC warns

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The world's deadliest creature is likely living in your backyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOSQUITO BUZZING)

INSKEEP: Because the mosquito is everywhere, and it's pestilent. I just looked up that word. It means destructive to life. The Centers for Disease Control says mosquitoes kill more people than any other creature because the mosquito spreads diseases like malaria and dengue and yellow fever.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Desiree LaBeaud is a global health researcher at Stanford University. She's been studying vector-borne illnesses for about 20 years.

DESIREE LABEAUD: So I call myself an arbovirologist, which is a person who studies these arboviruses, which are arthropod-borne viruses. And West Nile's our most important arbovirus in this country.

INSKEEP: We are getting a vocabulary workout in this story. West Nile is just one of the diseases carried by these insects, and LaBeaud says a hotter planet lengthens the breeding season.

LABEAUD: Normally what would have been a summertime season, maybe a few months long, when the vectors are most active, that's getting extended and getting longer because it's warmer in May and April than usual, and it's warmer in October and November than usual.

FADEL: LaBeaud also says the U.S. isn't well prepared for the growing threat of a full-scale outbreak.

LABEAUD: We have no vaccines against these things. Everyone's naive, which means they haven't seen this infection. They're not already protected against it.

INSKEEP: One thing you can do is get rid of any standing water that collects outside your home because mosquitoes use that for breeding. And as a society, LaBeaud says, we should reduce plastic trash, which can provide breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

LABEAUD: Adequate waste management - I would put that on the list of what we need to do. Because that's actually a really important risk factor for these infections worldwide.

FADEL: LaBeaud also advocates for more scientific resources, monitoring, and education. If you are bitten, she says, watch for symptoms of a viral infection.

LABEAUD: A sore neck, a really bad headache, really bad high fevers, sensitivity to lights, vomiting because your head is hurting so badly. We don't really have any therapies for it, right? It is supportive care at this point.

INSKEEP: Or just try to remember in advance to put on some bug spray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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