Mon. Dec 9th, 2019

How mosquitoes changed the history of mankind | Science


Between 1980 and 2010 Malaria killed between 1,200,000 and 2,780,000 people each year, which led to an increase of almost 25% in three decades. According to the WHO report corresponding to 2017, malaria killed 435,000 people (among 219 million cases), of which two-thirds were under five. This means that it is very possible that malaria has killed more people than any other disease throughout history.

The historian Timothy C. Winegard esteem in your last book, The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator ("The mosquito: a human story of our deadliest predator"), that female mosquitoes Anopheles They have sent some 52,000 million people to the other world out of the total 108,000 million that have existed throughout Earth's history.

In the course of history the damage caused by these tiny insects has determined the fate of empires and nations, paralyzed economic activities and decided the outcome of decisive wars. Along the way, they have killed almost half of humanity.

The exterminating lineage of mosquitoes, composed of about three thousand species, has played a more important role in shaping our history than any other organism on the planet.

Malaria or malaria is transmitted among humans through female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, whose 465 formally recognized species inhabit practically all over the world. The one in the photograph, Anopheles gambiae, transmits the most dangerous plasmodium, Plasmodium falciparum.

Florence Nightingale He called the Pontin marshes, near Rome, "the valley of the shadow of death." It is something that the Carthaginians and the first barbarian peoples who attacked Rome had already verified for themselves. The end of the Second Punic War ended in the Regia plains with a confrontation between the Carthaginian general Aníbal Barca and the young Publio Cornelio Escipión el Africano. Hannibal was defeated in the battle of Zama (202 BC), which meant the end of a conflict that had lasted seventeen years.

The Carthaginian decline had begun much earlier in the Pontin swamps, when malaria mosquitoes were primed with Carthaginian troops. The insect helped protect Rome from Hannibal and its hordes, and provided a trampoline for its inhabitants to dominate the Mediterranean.

The Visigoths, led by King Alaric, were the first barbarians to attack Rome. In 408, his armies besieged the city, which had approximately one million inhabitants, on three separate occasions. In 410, he besieged the city for the third and last time. Once intramuros, his troops undertook three days of pillage, rape, destruction and death.

Satisfied with the ravages and looting, the Visigoths left the city and headed south, leaving behind a trail of blood and ruins. Although he planned to return to Rome to destroy it once and for all, when the southern campaign ended, Alarico's forces were decimated by malaria. The powerful king, the first to plunder Rome, died of malaria in the fall of 410. The mosquito had saved Rome again.

Defeated by a coalition of Visigoths and Romans near the Ardennes forest in June 451, Attila turned its vociferous Huns southward and began a rapid invasion of northern Italy. In his wake he sowed panic, destruction and death. As the Spartans had done in the Thermopylae, a small Roman force managed to stop the Huns advancing in the swampy lands near the Po River. Unexpected legions of mosquitoes quickly entered the battle and slowed the Hungarian advance. Once again, the general Anopheles saved Rome.

Recalling a page of Aníbal's military aide memorandum, Attila held an audience with Pope Leo I. Despite the legend of a pious Christian pope who convinces Barbarian Attila to leave the assault on Rome and withdraw from Italy, the Atila's fierce Huns had been defeated again by insects. Attila's response to the Pope's plea was nothing more than a ruse to save his face. The most prudent thing was for the king of the Huns to return to the high steppe beyond the Danube, cold and dry, where Anopheles I could not follow him.

Although Attila did not die a victim of malaria like Alejando Magno or Alarico, two years later, in 453, he died of complications triggered by acute alcoholism. The division and internal struggles quickly emerged, and the tribal Huns abandoned their fragile unity and disappeared from history.

The deadliest animal in history

On August 1, the American publisher Ruston put the Winegard book on sale. This essay shows how mosquitoes have been for millennia the most powerful force in determining the destiny of humanity and conditioning the modern world order.

The history of the protection of Rome by mosquito armies is one of the many that Winegard tells, which throughout his essay presents these insects not only as an annoying plague, but as a force of nature that has changed the result of significant events in human history.

From ancient Athens to World War II, through the United States War of Independence, the resounding defeat of the English against Blas de Lezo at the site of Cartagena de Indias and the creation of the United Kingdom, Winegard highlights key moments in those that mosquito-borne diseases caused entire armies to collapse, great leaders to get sick or populations to be vulnerable to invasion.

A Mayan survivor of the post-Columbus malaria epidemics recalled: "Great was the stench of death. (…) We were all like that. We were born to die!" Humans lived and died from mosquito-borne diseases for thousands of years without understanding how the grim reaper came to them.

The enemy seemed, it still seems, insignificant.

Manuel Peinado Lorca He is a professor at the University of Alcalá, in the Life Sciences department of the Franklin Institute of North American Studies.

The Conversation

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