Mosquito ecology and mosquito disease vectors - image is an illustration with the title "All About Mosquitoes" that shows a mosquito laying eggs, another biting someone, and insecticide being sprayed.

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Aedes: a genus or closely related group of mosquitoes found on all continents except Antarctica. These mosquitoes can carry a variety of diseases......more

Anopheles: a genus or closely related group of mosquitoes that are widespread across the globe. Many of the species in this group can transmit malaria......more

Culex: a genus or group of closely related mosquitoes that are widespread and thrive in many cities. Some species of these mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus as well as roundworms that can cause encephalitis......more

Genera: the plural of genus, which is a term that we use to group the most closely related species....more

Incubation period: the time during which something develops. For disease, it is the time between coming in contact with a disease and symptoms starting. For animal development, it is the time period that an animal is kept under certain conditions until it hatches or grows to a certain stage....more

Malaise: an ill feeling, or generally not feeling well.

Pathogen: a virus, bacterium, fungus or parasite that infects and harms a living host.

A close-up picture of an Aedes aegypti mosquito, showing it has white bands on black legs and several white spots on the sides of its body

Aedes mosquitoes are one of the most dangerous for people. We can avoid many diseases by learning to avoid mosquitoes. Image by CDC.

There are many ways to avoid certain diseases. We can protect our skin from the sun to avoid some skin cancers. We know that a healthy diet can help avoid some cancers and type 2 diabetes. But we also know that we can avoid catching certain diseases if we avoid the animals that carry them.

It is important to stay away from mosquitoes if you can. There are a ton of different diseases people can catch from mosquitoes. People living in areas with high mosquito populations may be at high risk of catching a disease from them.

Here are some of the mosquito-carried diseases that impact the most people, or that are most well known:

Malaria parasite

A malaria parasite colorized to look blue, attaching to a red blood cell.

A malaria parasite (colored blue) is attaching to a red blood cell. Image by NIAID.

Globally, malaria is the third largest killer of children between the ages of one month and five years, following pneumonia and diarrhea.

Symptoms of malaria: Fever, chills, sweats, headaches, nausea and vomiting, body aches, and general malaise. Severe symptoms include anemia, breathing problems, convulsions (seizure or muscle spasms), and coma. If a pregnant woman is infected, this disease can cause premature births or low birth weights. If a child is infected, it can lead to cerebral malaria which can result in problems with coordination, balance, speech, coma and death.

Malaria incubation: 7 - 30 days

Malaria treatment: There is a vaccine, but it is not highly effective. You can take antimalarial drugs to prevent or treat an infection.

Transmission of malaria: Passed through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito.

Malaria is mostly found in: Africa, South Asia, and parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania.

Annual deaths from malaria: Malaria infected 241 million people and killed 627,000 in 2020.

The malaria parasite is carried by: 30 - 40 different species of mosquito within the Anopheles genus.

Dengue virus

A microscope image of a many virus particles from the family Flaviviridae

Dengue is caused by a small virus from the same family as this Flavivirus. Image by CDC.

Dengue was first isolated by two scientists by the name of Ren Kimura and Susumu Hotta in 1943. The virus was collected during the dengue outbreak in Nagasaki, Japan.

Symptoms of dengue: Nausea, vomiting, a rash, aches, and pains that last for 2 - 7 days. Severe dengue infection can cause belly pain, vomiting of blood, blood in stool, bloody gums, exhaustion, and restlessness.

Dengue incubation: 5 - 7 days

Dengue treatment: A 3-dose vaccine is approved for children aged 9-16 yrs old that live in areas with dengue. It is called Dengavaxia and is available in the U.S. A patient must have had dengue previously to get the vaccine. If they haven't, the risk of severe illness during a dengue infection actually increases. Anyone who is immunocompromised should not take the vaccine.

Transmission of dengue: Passed through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito. Dengue can spread from mother to child when the mother is pregnant or breastfeeding. There are four types of dengue viruses, so a person can be infected up to four times in their life.

Dengue is mostly found in: Southeast Asia, the western Pacific islands, Latin America and Africa, common in the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the freely associated states, including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

Annual deaths from dengue: Each year up to 400 million people are infected, 100 million experience symptoms, and 40,000 die from dengue.

The dengue viruses are carried by Aedes mosquitoes.

Yellow fever virus

A microscope image of the virus that causes yellow fever

Similar to dengue, yellow fever is caused by a flavivirus. Image by CDC.

Yellow fever got its name because sometimes people's skin turn a yellowish color. It was first discovered in an outbreak in 1648.

Symptoms of yellow fever: Fever, chills, headache, back pain, body aches, nausea, vomiting, weakness, yellow skin (jaundice), bleeding, shock, organ failure. Most people who get infected don't experience symptoms or have mild symptoms. 20-50% of people who develop severe symptoms will die.

Yellow fever incubation: 3 - 6 days

Yellow fever treatment: No medicine is available, but people 9 months and older can get a vaccine. The vaccine should protect you for life.

Transmission of yellow fever: Passed through the bite of an infected female Aedes or Haemagogus mosquito. Yellow fever can be transmitted from non-human primates to humans in the jungle or African savannah.

Yellow fever is mostly found in: Tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America.

Annual deaths from yellow fever: 30,000 deaths each year (90% occurring in Africa).

The yellow fever virus is carried by: Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus, and Haemagogus leucocelaenus.

Japanese encephalitis virus

A colored illustration showing the structure of the virus that causes Japanese encephalitis.

A colored illustration showing the structure of the virus that causes Japanese encephalitis. Image by NIH, NCBI, Wang et al.

Japanese encephalitis was first discovered in 1871 in Japan. This is why it is called Japanese encephalitis.

Symptoms of Japanese encephalitis: Most people don’t experience symptoms, but those that do experience the following. High fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, seizures, paralysis and ultimately death. Of the people who develop severe symptoms and survive, ~20-30% suffer permanent problems such as paralysis, recurring seizures, or loss of speech.

Japanese encephalitis incubation: 4 - 14 days

Japanese encephalitis treatment: Vaccines are available to protect yourself (IXIARO is available in the US).

Transmission of Japanese encephalitis: Bite of an infected Culex mosquito. Humans don't allow the virus to complete its life cycle. This disease mainly infects pigs and birds. It spreads more in farming areas, especially those where fields are irrigated.

Japanese encephalitis is mostly found in: Rural areas in South East Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East.

Annual deaths from Japanese encephalitis: Up to 25% of people who are infected with this disease may die. 68,000 people are infected and 13,000 - 24,000 people die each year.

The Japanese encephalitis virus is carried by Culex mosquitoes, especially Culex tritaeniorhynchus.

Chikingunya virus

A colored illustration showing the structure of the virus that causes Chikingunya

A colored illustration showing the structure of the virus that causes Chikingunya. Image by A2-33.

Chikingunya was first discovered by RW Ross in Tanzania in 1952. This disease gets its name from the Kimakonde language meaning to “become contorted”.

Symptoms of Chikingunya: Fever, joint pain, headache, rash, muscle pain, death (in rare cases). If infected once, you will most likely not experience symptoms again. People most at risk include people over 65 years of age, newborns, and people with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.

Chikingunya incubation: 3-7 days

Chikingunya treatment: No vaccines or medicines are available.

Transmission of Chikingunya: Passed through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito.

Chikingunya is mostly found in: Africa, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Pacific Region and most probably in the (sub) tropical regions of the Americas.

Annual deaths from Chikingunya: In 2021 this disease killed 12 but infected 137,025 worldwide.

The Chikinguna virus is carried by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

Zika virus

A creative illustration of the Zika virus attaching to a cell, by artist David Goodsell.

An illustration of the Zika virus attaching to a cell. Image by artist David Goodsell.

Zika was discovered in 1947 and was named after the Zika forest in Uganda.

Symptoms of Zika: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), malaise, headache. Severe Zika infection can make your immune system attack your nerves. This can cause numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.

Zika incubation: 3-14 days

Zika treatment: No medicines or vaccines are available.

Transmission of Zika: Passed through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito. Zika can spread from mother to child during pregnancy. It can also spread through sexual contact, and by touching infected blood. If a pregnant women contracts Zika, the baby can be born with birth defects, have premature birth, or the virus can cause a miscarriage.

Zika is mostly found in: Tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Annual deaths from Zika: In 2021 there were 18,804 cases of Zika and only two deaths.

The Zika virus is carried by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

West Nile virus

A microscope image of West nile viruses

A microscope image of the virus that causes West Nile. Image by PhD Dre.

West Nile virus was discovered in 1937 in Uganda. It got its name from the West Nile district in which it was discovered.

Symptoms of West Nile: Headache, fever, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. 80% of people do not experience symptoms, 20% develop mild symptoms, and less than 1% develop a severe illness. Severe symptoms include encephalitis (brain swelling) or meningitis (brain and spinal cord swelling).

West Nile incubation: 3 - 14 days

West Nile treatment: No vaccines or medicines are available.

Transmission of West Nile: Passed through the bite of an infected female Culex mosquito. West Nile can also be spread through organ transplants and by touching infected blood. In rare cases, it can spread from mother to baby during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. It mainly infects birds; crows and jays may get sick and die from this disease.

West Nile is mostly found in: Africa, regions of Europe and the Middle East, West Asia, Australia, Canada, Venezuela, and the United States.

Annual deaths from West Nile: In 2021, West Nile infected 2,700 people and killed 191 in the US alone.

The West Nile virus is carried by over 65 species of mosquitoes, mainly from the genus Culex.

Lymphatic filariasis

A microscopic filarial worm

Filarial worms similar to this one can cause lymphatic filariasis. Image by NIAID.

The earliest recorded case of Lymphatic filariasis dates back to 1550 BC from the Ebers Papyrus in Egypt.

Symptoms of lymphatic filariasis: Most people don't show symptoms of infections, but those that do may experience the following. Extreme enlargement of one area of the body, especially the limbs and external genitals. Swelling of tissue (lymphedema) and thickening of the skin. Decreased immune protection against infection by bacteria.

Lymphatic filariasis incubation: It takes about six months for the larvae to develop into adult worms. An adult worm can live between 5-7 years.

Lymphatic filariasis reatment: There is no vaccine for the disease, but people can take drugs that kill the worms.

Transmission of lymphatic filariasis: The larvae of the worms are passed through the bite of an infected mosquito. The larvae are put on the skin when a mosquito takes a blood meal. From there, the larvae enter the body and  make their way to the lymph vessels where they develop into adult worms for up to 6 months. Adult worms release microscopic larvae that get picked by a mosquito during its blood meal.

Lymphatic filariasis is mostly found in: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, the pacific islands, and South America.

Annual deaths from lymphatic filariasis: In 2018, 51 million people were infected with lymphatic filariasis. This disease has severe symptoms but rarely leads to death.

Lymphatic filariasis is commonly known as elephantiasis, because the arms or legs of infected people can swell and become much bigger. The skin in these areas can also thicken to look a little like an elephant’s skin.

The parasitic thread-like nematodes (roundworms) that cause lymphatic filariasis are carried by Aedes, Anopheles, Culex, and Mansonia mosquitoes (and many more!). Wuchereria bancrofti is the main parasite that infects people worldwide.


Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Mosquito silhouette by CDC.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Diseases Mosquitoes Carry
  • Author(s): Brook Jensen, Sergio Serrato-Arroyo
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: August 11, 2022
  • Date accessed: April 17, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/mosquito-diseases

APA Style

Brook Jensen, Sergio Serrato-Arroyo. (2022, August 11). Diseases Mosquitoes Carry. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 17, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/mosquito-diseases

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Brook Jensen, Sergio Serrato-Arroyo. "Diseases Mosquitoes Carry". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 11 August, 2022. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/mosquito-diseases

MLA 2017 Style

Brook Jensen, Sergio Serrato-Arroyo. "Diseases Mosquitoes Carry". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 11 Aug 2022. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 17 Apr 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/mosquito-diseases

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
A silhouette of a mosquito

Some mosquitoes can carry and transmit more than one disease at a time. It's important to avoid mosquitoes to avoid several types of diseases.

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