John VanDenBerg suspects he was gardening when a mosquito got him.
It was September 2018, and VanDenBerg, then 67, had been feeling a little “off” for a few days, he said, like maybe he had the flu.
But one morning, as he was walking out of his Colorado home, he collapsed.
Walkerton, a serene town in Bruce County, Ontario, with a population of under 5,000, embodies tranquil rural charm, where close-knit communities thrive amid picturesque landscapes. Here on May 15, 2000, the local public utilities commission took a routine sample of the water supply and discovered E. coli contamination. The commission didn’t notify public health officials.
In the following days, several people fell ill with bloody diarrhea. The local public utilities commission reassured officials a couple of times that the water supply was safe, even though cases kept rising. By the time health officials finally warned the community against consuming untreated tap water, over 40 individuals had already sought medical attention at the hospital.
The Walkerton E. coli outbreak that saw 2,300 people fall ill, and seven die, was the worst public health disaster involving municipal water in Canadian history.
In the last couple of decades, the lush rainforest around the remote village of Meliandou in the heart of Guinea has become patchier. Animals, like bats, saw their habitats dwindle and in a quest for survival, they sought refuge in closer proximity to human environments, making the boundaries between species thinner. A hollowed-out tree in the middle of the village became home to a colony of bats.
About 50 meters from the same tree, in the heart of Meliandou, a two-year-old boy named Emile lived with his family. In a matter of days, Emile fell ill with an unknown virus, developed a high fever, and died. Soon the same virus, that scientists now believe Emile got from the bats, took the lives of his sister, mother, and grandmother. The village, surrounded by a ring of forest, unexpectedly became the epicenter of a devastating outbreak that would leave an indelible mark.
One look at Aedes aegypti gives an immediate impression of its menacing nature. The telltale dark and white bands on the mosquito’s legs and other body parts bring a sense of foreboding and hardship. Sleek, silent, and stealthy, Ae. aegypti is the primary vector for several important, debilitating, and sometimes fatal human diseases including dengue, Zika virus, yellow fever, and chikungunya. The species is cause for mounting concern on many levels, as its biology, behavior, and ability to adapt have made Aedes aegypti one of the most pervasive and daunting public health challenges in the modern world.
The first mosquito ever associated with the spread of disease, Ae. aegypti is also the most studied of all mosquito species.1 From its humble beginnings in the African wild to a footprint that spans the globe, this durable and opportunistic insect has become a formidable opponent of vector control efforts worldwide.
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