Speaking of the mosquito  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , ,

There has never been a more effective killing machine. Researchers estimate that mosquitoes have been responsible for half the deaths in human history. Malaria accounts for much of the mor­tality, but mosquitoes also transmit scores of other potentially fatal infections, in­cluding yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, lymphatic filariasis, Rift Val­ley fever, West Nile fever, and several types of encephalitis. Despite our tech­nical sophistication, mosquitoes pose a greater risk to a larger number of people today than ever before. Like most other pathogens, the viruses and parasites borne by mosquitoes evolve rapidly to re­sist pesticides and drugs.”

These quotes are from an informative and fascinating article on dengue fever [The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012, pages 38-46] and a new approach to wiping out the species of mosquito—the Aedes aegypti—that carry it.

“As adults, the mosquitoes are eerily beautiful: jet black, with white spots on the thorax and white rings on their legs. Yet Aedes are among the deadliest creatures on earth. Before a vaccine was discovered in the nineteen-thirties, the mosquito transmitted the yellow-fever virus to millions of people, with devastating efficiency. During the Spanish-American War, U.S. troops suffered more casualties from yellow fever than from enemy fire. The mosquito also carries dengue, one of the most rapidly spreading viral diseases in the world. According to the World Health Organization, dengue infects at least fifty million people a year. For the fortunate, a case of dengue resembles a mild form influenza. But more than half a million people become seriously ill from the disease. Many develop dengue shock syndrome or a hemorrhagic fever that leaves them vomiting and, often, bleeding from the nose, mouth, or skin. The pain can be so excruciating that the virus has commonly invoked nickname: break-bone fever.”

There is no cure for dengue, not even any adequate treatment. We may be hearing more about it in the media because the Aedes has invaded the United States, bringing dengue, as our world has become increasingly globalized. Which raises three questions for me.

First, since I have not been particularly troubled by this problem while it remained primarily outside the U.S., is my interest in the topic now ethically compromised as a Christian?

Second, if the apparently best solution to the problem of eradicating the Aedes lies in releasing billions of genetically modified mosquitos into infected areas, does the benefit of this approach (Aedes populations drop dramatically) outweigh potential risks (though scientists have built in safeguards, no one can fully predict all possible effects the modified creatures will have once released into the wild)?

And third, many people fear this sort of advance in science. Rather than studying nature, they say, scientists here are playing God, not only seeking to change living creatures in fundamental ways, but seeking to wipe out an entire species. For the Christian, that translates into remembering that God called his creation “good” before the fall. Dengue fever is an obvious result of that fall, but that does not make the Aedes evil. Can we justify eradicating them? And if the answer is Yes, where is the bright line over which we will not step to destroy other species that we find troublesome?

Further reading: “Mosquitoes Remade” in Science News (July 14, 2012) pages 22-26; and the World Health Organization on dengue fever online (www.who.int/topics/dengue/en/)

This entry was posted at Monday, July 16, 2012 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


As someone who is allergic to mosquito bites, I have always kind of thought that the mosquito entered the world after the Fall. I of course have no proof of this, other than the apparent lack of anything positive about this creature. But perhaps its less appealing qualities came about after the Fall, while it was created before.

Good thoughts on whether or not we should try to eradicate, or maybe simply try to change, the mosquito. Would changing its attributes come under the dominion mandate? Or is that going too far?

July 24, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Little known fact: Minnesota was the original site of the Garden of Eden. When Eve ate the apple (a Winesap), the mosquitoes came down and paradise was history. The next week, it started to snow.

July 25, 2012 at 9:23 AM

I'm glad you mentioned this, because it's an assumption I think a lot of people hold. I certainly have for a long time. Then I realized that nothing new was generated by the fall. That must mean the mosquito was created as good, and was perverted somehow when the fall occurred. One possible solution to the eradication scheme is that there are >1000 varieties of mosquitos, so eradicating the Aedes would not mean the end to the creature entirely.

The questions you raise are precisely the ones we Christians need to consider. What is included in the dominion mandate, and when do we slide into "playing God"?

Thanks for your comment.

July 26, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Actually, Greg, it was a Honeycrisp, but the rest is correct. One of the proofs of Eden is in the trout streams.

July 26, 2012 at 4:38 PM

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