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Malaria in a Warming World

Mosquitoes infect 500 million people a year with malaria and dengue, both potentially fatal diseases. To understand how diseases may spread in a warming world, a Penn State research team is studying the link between temperature changes and the spread of malaria and dengue.

The research team—led by Matt Thomas, professor of entomology in the College ofMosquito (iStock photo) Agricultural Sciences—discovered that daytime temperature changes affect both malaria parasite development in mosquitoes and disease-transmission rates, findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last August. Climate change’s potential impact on infectious diseases is the focus of Thomas’s work, awarded a $1.9-million grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We hope the outcomes of this research can be used to develop appropriate practices for disease prevention and control,” says Thomas. “The focus on dengue and malaria will provide general insights that also can be extended to other vectorborne diseases, such as West Nile encephalitis.”

Mosquitoes carry the diseases from one person to another, acting as a vector. Thomas’s team is studying the net effects of climate and land-use changes at regional and local levels to determine how changing environmental conditions will affect diseases as the world warms.