Mosquitoes are tiny insects, but they carry a big economic bite. Although most of us don’t see the mosquito as causing anything but itchy bites, this insect, in fact, spreads many diseases. Each year, millions of people die as a result of contracting mosquito-borne diseases, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed mosquitoes as among the top threats to public health, especially in developing nations. Each year, nations suffer billions of dollars in losses, spend billions on mosquito control programs and invest substantially in treatments for patients who have suffered complications after mosquito bites.
The Price Tag of Mosquito-Borne Diseases
If you are bitten by a mosquito and don’t experience anything other than an itchy patch of skin, the expense of the bite might not be anything more than the cost of a soothing lotion. If you contract a disease from the bite, however, the price tag balloons quickly. For individuals, the cost of mosquito-borne disease may include:
- Missed time at work
- Funds to cover prescription or over-the-counter medicine
- Medical treatment or hospitalization bills
- Time spent visiting the doctor
- Transportation costs for doctors’ visits and related travel
- The cost of securing DEET or other insect sprays to prevent further bites
For communities and countries, however, the economic impact is much greater. Nations may need to pay for:
- Education programs to warn the public about epidemics or diseases
- Mosquito control measures (such as insecticides)
- Public prevention programs (such as distribution of mosquito nets)
- Vaccine programs (for those mosquito-borne diseases preventable with vaccinations)
- Loss of productivity (which can impact the country’s overall production and economy)
- Compensation for businesses and communities affected by epidemics or outbreaks
- Research to prevent further outbreaks and to treat illness
- Public health programs to help patients affected by the diseases
Mosquito-borne diseases can have varying financial impacts. Let’s take a closer look at a list of mosquito-borne diseases and their economic impact:
1) Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE)
This is considered one of the deadliest mosquito-borne illnesses in the United States. This disease is spread to both humans and horses by mosquitoes, and the insects contract EEE from infected birds. About 30% of patients who contract the illness will die, and about half of survivors experience paralysis or have their mental or cognitive abilities permanently affected. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to EEE. Between 2000 and 2007, more than 25,000 horses succumbed to EEE, meaning considerable loss to their owners as well as substantial veterinary bills. For human cases, the total cost is more challenging to calculate. However, it is estimated that each residual case can cost $3 million, including extended medical care, lost wages and other related costs.
2) Japanese encephalitis
Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease largely spread through the mosquito bite, mostly in the Pacific and Asian regions. About 30,000–50,000 cases of the disease are reported annually, and about 3 billion people live in places where they are at risk for contracting Japanese encephalitis. In some cases, this viral disease can lead to permanent neurological and cognitive damages. Since there can be long-term injury and since hospitalization is required in many cases to treat patients, the costs are quite high. Families with an infected child pay about $1,151 USD out of pocket in Asia for treatment and related costs, according to one study. The families in the study worked in rural areas in parts of Asia and had incomes of about $115 USD per month.
3) La Crosse encephalitis (LACE)
LACE is caused by mosquito bites and can lead to long-term injury. The virus causes encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, potentially leading to permanent brain injury. LACE is relatively rare, with about 80-100 cases reported in the United States each year. This disease is endemic to the western regions of North Carolina and represents significant total costs for patients. Patients pay about $32,974-$34,793 for direct and indirect medical costs, while patients who have suffered neurological injury because of the disease pay about $48,775-$3,090,798.
4) St. Louis encephalitis (SLE)
St. Louis Encephalitis is a arborviral disease passed onto mosquitoes from infected birds and then onto humans from infected mosquitoes. SLE increases medical costs, but since it is relatively rare, with only two human cases reported in Florida in 2014, most of the economic impact is temporary and related to non-medical costs. For example, Florida saw a 15% decrease in tourism revenues in the three months of 1990 after a St. Louis encephalitis outbreak, in which 223 cases were reported.
5) West Nile virus
West Nile Virus is a disease passed from infected birds to mosquitoes, and then from infected mosquitoes to humans. For healthy young adults, the disease usually results in West Nile Fever and the relatively mild flu-like symptoms go away on their own within a week. For those with compromised immune systems and the more elderly, however, West Nile Virus can be more serious, even though it results in fatalities in less than 1% of patients. In the United States, 30,000 people have been infected with West Nile Virus, and 1,200 have died from the disease since 2001. In 2002 alone, the cost of health care for West Nile Virus patients in the United States was about $200 million dollars. This number did not include mosquito control programs or lost productivity caused by the disease. West Nile Virus outbreaks have occurred in the United States and other countries, and when outbreaks happen, they can be costly. Governments need to respond with mosquito population control programs, increased medical care for patients, education programs and other measures. In addition, outbreaks can result in a loss of productivity and other indirect costs. A California outbreak of the disease in 2005 cost $2.98 million, while a 2002 national outbreak had costs totaling $20.14 million.
6) Western equine encephalitis (WEE)
With this disease, an infected mosquito spreads the Western equine encephalitis (WEE) virus, which can lead to brain parenchyma inflammation, coma, seizures, permanent neurological injury or fatalities. The virus attacks horses as well as humans. If a horse catches the disease and shows neurological signs (such as stumbling, head pressing and lack of coordination) the disease is fatal about 90% of the time. The cost of WEE in humans ranges from $21,000 to $3 million per individual case, depending on the neurological injury and the severity of symptoms.
7) Dengue Fever
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness especially common in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Symptoms include high fever, sudden headaches, vomiting, muscle pain, joint pain and diarrhea. Most cases of Dengue fever last about a week, and patients recover. However, the illness can progress and become fatal. The costs of Dengue Fever in just eight countries — Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand — amount to $1.8 billion each year in direct and indirect costs, according to researchers. In the Americas, Dengue fever was estimated to cost, on average, about $2.1 billion annually — based on 2010 amounts. These numbers are significant since Dengue fever occurs in such a large portion of the world. About 50 million to 100 million people are affected each year by this illness, and about 2.5 billion people live in places where the disease can occur. Scientists think the total numbers of people infected — and the total costs of the disease — can increase as the populations in affected areas boom and as the mosquitoes spread to new areas because of climate change.
Malaria is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne diseases in the world, most common in the South Pacific, South America, Africa and Asia. More than one million deaths and 250 million instances of the disease are reported, on average, each year. Only tuberculosis and AIDS are more deadly on a global scale. Since malaria is so devastating, it not surprisingly has a big economic impact, too. Globally, it costs about $12 billion a year in direct costs (such as medical treatment, illness and fatalities). In countries where the disease is common, it can reduce a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by up to 1.3%. Also in nations where malaria is common, the disease can represent as much as 40% of public health spending and can account for 60% of visits to health clinics — as well as 20-50% of hospital admissions. Unfortunately, many of the nations and individuals most affected by malaria also face economic barriers, making treatment and economic loss all the more unaffordable. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $1.6 billion to fight malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis, and an additional $2 billion to fight malaria specifically. One of the biggest economic impacts of malaria is the growing cost of medication-resistant malaria. Traditionally, the disease has been treated with artemisinin, but an increasing number of patients are not reacting to artemisinin as expected. The drug resistance is expected to have an impact of $500 million each year. In addition, the drug resistance means medical costs for treatment are expected to increase to $146 million a year, an increase of 28%.
9) Rift Valley Fever virus (RVF)
Infected mosquitoes can transmit Rift Valley Fever virus (RVF) to both humans and animals. Currently, the disease is mainly found in Africa, but researchers have stated the United States also has the conditions to become a place where RVF spreads. If the disease did spread to the US, the economic impact would be significant. Cattle and livestock would likely be subject to trade restrictions, and they might die or have to be euthanized in significant numbers, potentially affecting the income of farmers and the economy overall. In Kenya, for instance, an outbreak of the disease in 2006 and 2007 led to $9.3 million in economic losses, largely due to livestock quarantines and trade regulations.
10) Yellow Fever
The yellow fever virus is spread by mosquito bites and can lead to symptoms such as fever, nausea, muscle pains, chills and loss of appetite. If the fever goes away and comes back, some patients suffer injury to organs such as the kidney or liver. If the liver is affected, the patient’s skin can yellow. About 900 million people live in areas where they are at risk for yellow fever. About 200,000 people are infected every year, and about 30,000 die each year of the disease. There is no cure, but there is a vaccine for the disease. Between 2011 and 2015, $330 million was used to purchase yellow fever vaccines in endemic countries, including parts of Africa.
Chikungunya can occur with no symptoms in some patients, but other patients who contract the disease from infected mosquitoes experience debilitating joint pain and infection. In some cases, the painful symptoms can last for years and can make adults less productive or unable to work, creating an economic impact for entire communities. In 2014, Jamaica saw an outbreak of the disease and forecast economic losses of $246,742 USD, largely due to loss of productivity.
12) Ross River virus
Ross River virus is a mosquito-borne illness common in Australia. It results in arthritic symptoms and is not fatal. Annually, about 8,000 cases of the disease occur in Australia each year. Although this disease is not as deadly as some other mosquito-spread viruses and although it does not affect as many people, the costs of the illness are still high. Out of pocket medical costs are approximately $AUD 1,070 for each case. In 2007, Australia paid an estimated total of $4.3 to $4.9 million for Ross River virus cases. In addition to the costs of medical treatment and diagnosis, Australia has spent a considerable amount of money on mosquito control to prevent outbreaks. In 2004 alone, for example, the government spent $10 million to reduce the mosquito population in Queensland, a state on Australia’s east coast.
Other Mosquito Costs
The costs of Dengue fever and mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever aren’t the only costs behind these biting insects. Each year, mosquitoes injure livestock and animals, resulting in disease and injury for farmers. There is some debate about the economic impact of this loss, but one estimate has suggested as much as $61 million dollars may be lost annually in the United States due to the impact of mosquitoes on livestock. Mosquitoes also mean homeowners, farmers and governments have to spend money on pest-control programs, netting and other preventative measures. Mosquitoes also create non-tangible costs. What’s the cost of lost productivity caused by mosquito-borne illness? What’s the cost of lost opportunity and enjoyment caused by swarms of the insects preventing you from stepping outside to enjoy your days? Mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases can also affect local economies. When there is an outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases or an increase in the number of mosquitoes, tourism and recreational businesses can be affected. No matter how you add it up, mosquitoes can come with a very high price tag.
Fighting Back Against Mosquitoes
If you’re worried about Dengue fever and mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, you’ll want to become proactive about reducing mosquito populations around your home. Mosquito Magnet® mosquito traps convert propane into an exact mixture of CO2, moisture, heat and a secondary attractant. When mosquitoes come near the trap, thinking they are approaching someone to bite, they’ll be sucked into netting via a vacuum, where they will dehydrate and die. By cutting down on the number of breeding mosquitoes looking for blood, Mosquito Magnet® mosquito traps can reduce the number of mosquitoes in your yard over time, helping to lower your risk of getting mosquito bites and contracting diseases they can carry. Find out more about Mosquito Magnet® by signing up for our E-Newsletter and visiting Mosquito® Magnet on Facebook.