When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert about finding four malaria cases in Florida and one malaria case in Texas, it created quite a buzz. After all, these were the first reported cases of people actually catching malaria in the U.S. since 2003. Finding these five cases has raised questions about whether malaria may return to the U.S. after being absent for many years and whether climate change be opening the gates for Anopheles mosquitoes to spread in the U.S. That would kind of suck since the females of such mosquito species can carry and transmit malaria-causing organisms. This news also opened the gates in another way—allowing a flood of even more conspiracy theories about billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. This included claims that Gates was somehow responsible for these new malaria cases via a project that released genetically modified mosquitoes in the U.S. However, such claims really provided zzzzzero supporting evidence and in fact detracted from what really happened.
For example, Liz Churchill, who even calls herself a “conspiracy theorist” on her Twitter bio, sent out a tweet that hit the fan and spread with over 23.5K re-tweets. Her tweet said, “It must be a coincidence that from 2003-2023 there wasn’t one case of Malaria spread by mosquitos…and along comes a company funded by Bill Gates…to solve a problem that didn’t exist…and suddenly in the exact places where he releases mosquitos…there’s an outbreak of Malaria?”
Plus, there was a “you got male” problem with Churchill’s tweet. Oxitec released genetically-modified, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as opposed to female Anopheles mosquitoes. These are two different sexes and two very different mosquito species. While Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can carry various organisms that can cause Dengue, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya, they typically do not carry the Plasmodium parasites that can cause malaria. Again, only certain types of Anopheles mosquitoes can carry and transmit the malaria-causing parasite to humans. And among these Anopheles mosquitoes, only the females are out for blood, so to speak. Only the females bite—meaning bite and suck the blood of humans.
Plus, when Churchill claimed that Oxitec is trying to “solve a problem that didn’t exist,” she got it wrong, wrong like a bathroom gong. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are a problem—a big little problem. As I recently reported for Forbes, dengue is a problem throughout many parts of the world—a real growing problem. And Zika has been a problem, assuming that you think babies born without brains is a problem. I covered the Zika epidemic back in 2016 for Forbes, and the Zika virus remains a threat for future cases and outbreaks. Yellow fever and chikungunya aren’t fun either. And as more and more of the world becomes more like an Easy-Bake Oven with climate change, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes may keep spreading more and more Northward and bringing along with them various diseases.
Introducing genetically-modified mosquitoes that in turn can keep the mosquito population from growing is one possible way to combat all of these growing problem. When these genetically-modified male mosquitoes get it on with female Aedes aegypti, they can pass along a gene to any resulting female offspring. That gene essentially serves as ticking time bomb—or perhaps a mosquitoing time bomb—that will lead to the early death of such offspring thus preventing the mosquito population from growing.
Churchill’s tweet was a bit ironic, given that the Gates Foundation has stated that “Malaria eradication is a top priority of the foundation.” Over the past two decades, they have supported projects aiming to improve the surveillance, prevention, and treatment of malaria. Their work has primarily been in low and middle income countries. So it is unclear why they would want to do anything that would go against their top priority. Churchill didn’t really provide any evidence that would reconcile this seeming contradiction.
Churchill certainly wasn’t the only one to post such evidence-free claims about Gates on social media. For example, a Twitter account that goes by the handle @DC_Draino tweeted, “I’d say it’s time for Gov. DeDantis to announce his plan to tackle the resurgence of Malaria in Florida. Did he allow Bill Gates’ GMO mosquitoes in the state?” The Twitter bio for this account includes the name Rogan O’Handley, calls itself “Anti-Woke” and includes a photo of Tucker Carlson. By the way, a June 30 tweet from @DC_Driano indicated, “Last night I was asked by @FLVoiceNews why I’m supporting President Trump over Gov. DeSantis. ‘I want the guy with the most impeachments, the most indictments, the most investigations because that is who the deep state fears the most.’” So, could @DC_Draino be attempting to politicize a public health problem? Gee, when has that ever happened before in the U.S.?
Although public health efforts were able to effectively eliminate malaria from the United States in the early 1950s, there is no guarantee that this potentially life-threatening disease won’t return. You don’t want MAMA to happen, meaning to make America malaria-full again. Prior to the 1880s, malaria was a real problem in the U.S., affecting most populated areas in the country. The recent of these five locally-transmitted malaria cases in Florida and Texas doesn’t necessarily that malaria will surge again in the U.S. There have been 11 malaria outbreaks in the U.S. since 1992 with the last one prior to this year occuring in 2003 in Palm Beach County, Florida, according to Angelo Fichera reporting for the AP News. Nevertheless, these five malaria case are a reminder that public health efforts to better control the mosquito population are needed.