Outbreaks

Why mosquitoes are considered a worldwide threat

Viewers of Discovery Channel's new "MOSQUITO" documentary will get an inside look at the fascinating and terrifying little bug that has the potential to create worldwide havoc. 

“Because of the way we live these days, we are all vulnerable,” director Su Rynard told Fox News, noting that changes like increased urbanization and travel have contributed to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

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In fact, according to the World Health Organization, of the all disease-transmitting insects, the mosquito is the greatest menace, spreading diseases including malaria, dengue, and yellow fever which cause several million deaths each year.

One of the most recent threats? Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects in children and that has so far been spotted in 70 countries and territories around the world.

Are mosquitos a serious threat

While mosquitos are not necessarily more of a threat now than they have been in the past, John Beier, an entomologist at the University of Miami's Department of Public Health Sciences, told Fox News that they carry with them significant risks, including transmission of diseases. 

And Beier agrees that increased travel is a concern.

“That’s what we saw last year with Zika,” Beier said. “A lot of travelers were coming in and bringing it. And about 80 percent of the people infected with Zika don’t show any symptoms—they don’t necessarily know they are carrying the virus.”

In Miami especially, Beier said, a large number of tourists and visitors come in from other countries, potentially bringing such diseases with them.

What you can do to protect yourself

When it comes to combatting mosquito-borne diseases, there are a few precautions you can take: pregnant women especially should avoid mosquitos by staying inside, using repellents, and wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, Beier said. He noted that people in areas that are most at risk—including South Florida, Texas, and parts of the southeastern United States—have to be most careful.

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And, since mosquitos breed in tiny amounts of water, you can also protect yourself by making sure to remove any standing water—such as in flower pots or kiddie pools—around your home, Rynard said.

Ultimately, awareness is key, Rynard said. She added that it's important  to understand that such diseases are not distant problems in faraway countries.

“Disease don’t stop at borders," she said. "We all have to be vigilant in a new way. We have to think globally about these problems and recognize that if we don’t, we’ll really be in trouble.”

"MOSQUITO" airs July 6 at 9 p.m., ET.