Mosquito-borne viruses, over the last few centuries, have shaped the social and political history of the Americas. Since late 2015, millions of mosquitoes, mainly Aedes aegypti but perhaps also Ae. albopictus have been spreading the Zika virus in South and Central America. Zika belongs to a formidable family of mosquito-borne viruses, which, over the last few centuries, has shaped the social and political history of the Americas. Zika is following in distinguished footsteps. Dengue, also transmitted chiefly by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, long affected tropical Africa and Asia. Sometime in the last 500 years (no one can say just when) it stowed away on ships and crossed the Atlantic to the Americas. Some dengue strains arrived only recently, in the 1970s and 1980s, via air traffic. Yellow fever, for which Aedes aegypti also serve as the primary vector, is African in origin. It leapt the Atlantic no later than 1647. No one knows precisely how these viruses and their mosquito vector crossed to the Americas, but the likeliest hypothesis is that they hitched a ride on some of the many thousands of slave ships that crossed the Atlantic. Dengue and yellow fever started to alter history in the Americas from the 1690s.
Read the rest of Prof. McNeill's article at TIME or the History News Network.
John McNeill is the author of Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (2010).