In Baltimore, Maryland, people living in low-income neighborhoods are at greater risk of contracting West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease, than people living in more affluent neighborhoods. So reports a new study in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
Lead author Sarah Rothman, a PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland College Park, says, “Our study is the first in Baltimore to document how mosquito infections are related to West Nile virus to the socio-economic neighborhood where mosquito incidence is high and what diseases they carry can help focus monitoring and management programs where they are most needed. “
Mosquito-borne diseases are a growing threat in cities in the United States. Vacant lots and abandoned buildings can create environmental conditions that support mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Overgrown vegetation, stagnant water for breeding, and access to blood meal from rodents, cats, and birds can put nearby residents at risk of developing mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya, and West Nile viruses.
This study builds on previous research that found mosquito-borne diseases to be an environmental justice issue in Baltimore. Co-author Shannon LaDeau, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, says, “Previous work has shown that lower-income neighborhoods tend to have more mosquito habitats than wealthier neighborhoods, which puts people at higher risk of who are already at risk due to their limited access to health care. We have also found that larger mosquitoes, which may have greater infection potential, thrive in less affluent areas. “
The most recent study took place over three years and focused on five neighborhoods in Baltimore that represent a socio-economic area. The focus areas included two districts with incomes below the median, two in the median and one above the median annual household income. All five districts are made up of similar blocks of terraced houses and are within 2 km of each other, which minimizes environmental fluctuations.