The Worst Animal in the World

From The Atlantic
August 19, 2020

or about a week this past September, I adopted a wellness routine that—at the time—felt like neurotic overkill. I didn’t bother with masks or hand sanitizer; back then, the virus we now know as SARS-CoV-2 was still presumably nestled in the warm body of an unknown animal. Instead, each morning, I spritzed my arms and legs with picaridin, a chemical repellent meant to ward off parasitic bugs. Then I covered myself with one of several increasingly crusty sets of khaki pants and long-sleeved shirts that I had infused with the insecticide permethrin. Only then, force field up, would I venture outside.

I had come to Dakar, Senegal, to get close—but not too close—to Aedes aegypti, a globally invasive mosquito that is arguably the worst animal in the world. The species carries yellow fever and dengue, both of which can cause more severe disease in young adults than SARS-CoV-2; Zika virus, which can lead to birth defects; and chikungunya virus, which can leave victims with debilitating joint pain.

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