The History of Mosquitoes in America

Author: Mosquito Squad of Greater Washington DC

Throughout the world, there are known to be approximately 2,700 different species of mosquitoes and the United States is home to about 150 of them.

For centuries these mosquitoes have plagued people all over the globe, but it wasn’t until several thousands of years later mosquitoes were known to carry deadly diseases. These ancient diseases were found to not only affect mankind but also dogs and horses bringing serious illness or even death.

Where It All Began

The history of mosquitoes in America and the story of their control is rich and dates back to the mid-1600s.

One of the first recorded cases of the vector-borne virus, yellow fever, occurred in 1668 in New York followed by a major epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 where thousands of people died.   Several serious epidemics occurred later in New Orleans, most notably in 1833 and 1853 continuing to 1905.

In 1922 cases of dengue fever were recorded along the Gulf Coast spreading from Texas to Florida and becoming one of the most serious vector-borne viruses of the Americas, Asia, and Africa.  In the south of Texas 55 cases of dengue were reported in 1999 including one death, 85 people suffered from the virus in Hawaii in 2001, and over 20 Florida Keys residents were confirmed to be infected in 2010.

Florida was hit with epidemics of the St. Louis Encephalitis, a disease transmitted from birds to humans, during the years of 1959, 1961, 1962, 1977 and 1990. Over 35 years (1964-1998) a total of 4,478 cases of the virus were recorded in America’s history.  One of the last confirmed deaths due to St. Louis Encephalitis virus occurred in Louisiana in 2003.  Florida was also the location for the Chikungunya virus, which resulted in 2 cases being reported in July 2014.

The Eastern Equine Encephalitis has been one of the most serious vector-born viruses to make its way into the story of mosquitoes in America.  It was first identified in Massachusetts in 1933 followed by an outbreak causing illness to 38 people and 248 horses.  Since 1999-2014 there have been over 36,000 human cases reported in America with over 1,500 fatalities.

During 1934 there were more than 125,500 cases of malaria in the United States and the disease was not effectively controlled until the 1940s. The incidence of malaria peaked during the 1960s and early 1970s as military personnel returned from the war in Vietnam.  The largest outbreak of the disease since the 1950s occurred in southern California in 1986.

More recently in the year 2000, West Nile virus was reported in 12 states across the country (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia).  This grew to 27 states by 2003, and by 2006 all states excluding Alaska and Hawaii had experienced the disease.

Mosquito Species of the United States Today

There are several common species of mosquitoes notorious for carrying serious diseases that call the United States home. The Aedes albopicus also referred to as the Asian tiger mosquito, is known to cause dengue fever, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and heartworm.  The second common Aedes mosquito, Aedes aegypti is the chief carrier of the yellow fever virus.

The northern house mosquito, known as the Culex pipiens, primarily causes West Nile virus and the Anopheles quadrimaculatus is the main carrier of malaria throughout eastern, central and southern United States.

Looking back at the history of mosquitoes in America, it clear that mosquitoes have been nuisances for nearly as long as our country has been independent. Thankfully, today we have better methods of mosquito control and increased knowledge of insect-borne virus prevention.