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Insects and other arthropods

Insects and our health

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When eating outdoors, make sure there isn't a wasp hiding in your food. You could accidentally corner it, causing it to attack.
Photo: Insectarium de Montréal (René Limoges)

They are known as black flies, mosquitoes, lice, ticks, fleas and bed bugs. They can make our lives harder and sometimes even unbearable. Others, such as social wasps and horseflies, frighten us simply by flying near us. Not to mention all the phobias that spiders cause….

Rarely do arthropod species pose a threat to human health, although a few of them can transmit serious infectious diseases. However, many medicinal products extracted from arthropods have a tremendous potential to improve the quality of our lives. Many can even treat diseases such as HIV and some cancers.

Vectors of disease and skin irritation

Because they feed on blood and sometimes change hosts, some species of fleas, mosquitoes and ticks can transmit diseases, such as the bubonic plague, malaria and Lyme’s disease. Others, such as head lice, bed bugs and some mites can cause major skin irritation that can later become infected.

In Quebec, very few diseases are transmitted by arthropods. The West Nile virus, which appeared in North America in 1999, is now in Quebec. The virus causes encephalitis in birds and horses.

However, there is no need to be overly alarmed, as the risk to human health remains low. Only certain species of mosquitoes can transmit the disease.

Allies in our health

Over the course of their evolution starting more than 450 million years ago, arthropods have survived a great deal of environmental “aggression.” To defend themselves and survive, they have developed extremely effective and healthful substances.

For example, the venom that domestic bees use to protect their colony is composed of a number of chemical products. However, research has shown that some of these components, after being purified and synthesized, can be used as anti-inflammatory drugs and to treat certain cancerous tumours, such as mellitin and phospholipaseA2.

Until recently, little research has been conducted using insect-based products, but the future is promising, and many companies already recognize the potential of such products.

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