Science enthusiasts gathered in the Thomas Building on Saturday morning to hear Matt Thomas, Professor and Huck Scholar in Ecological Entomology, speak about the dangers and solutions to mosquito-borne diseases.
The lecture, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Diseases Caused by Insects," covered the spread of diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus, a disease put into mainstream news not too long ago. The lecture series, entitled "The Quest for One Healthy Planet," runs every Saturday until Feb. 25 and is free for the public.
Transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses cause approximately 725,000 human deaths a year, making mosquitos one of the most deadly forms of life on the plant. Thomas cited a World Health Organization study that found cases of dengue, a disease spread by the Asian Tiger Mosquito, are estimated at a rate of about 390 million cases a year.
"390 million cases...that's a really big number. In fact, that's the entire population of the United States, plus some," Thomas said, trying to get the severity across.
There has been a really dramatic increase in Zika virus cases in recent years, a point that has made the research of Thomas and other scientists critical in recent years. Although the prevalence of malaria in mid-Africa is in decline, the disease still claims about 429,000 deaths per year, mainly in small children.
Because of the less severe winters that many attribute to global warming, mosquitos bearing diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus might be able to thrive in previously uninhabitable locations soon. This combined with steady globalization, urbanization, and mosquitos developing insecticide resistance make the insect more of a threat than ever, even with improved medicine.
Thomas then showed some examples of Penn State research in action in Africa. Because mosquitos often enter homes through open eaves, small gaps between the roof and wall of an African home, his team developed ventilation tubes lined with heavier insecticide-laced mesh to both keep mosquitos out and under control.
According to experiment results, the mesh both lowers the amount of mosquitoes present in homes using the technology and lowers insect numbers in the surrounding areas. Thomas is working to get the technology used on a wide-scale so more African homes are protected.
The lecture hall was mostly filled with State College residents, but a few students attended the lecture. Leslie Johnson, a student working with Science Lionpride to organize the lecture, feels very strongly about the university's ability to give back and share information with the community.
"We do this because we think it's really important for the general public to be educated on science topics," Johnson (sophomore-biology) said.
As part of a chemistry assignment, Andrew Han had the option to attend one of the Frontiers of Science lectures. The lecture went far beyond what he expected.
"These lectures are definitely something interesting to do on the weekend," Han (freshman-chemical engineering) said. "I'm an Eagle Scout, and I got help from the department of entomology with one of my projects. It's nice to revisit that here."