The Role of Insect Epidemics and Human History
Throughout history, bugs and people have been at odds. Sometimes we live symbiotically, while other times we’ve fallen prey to the diseases bugs can spread. Insects have had such a dramatic impact on the human race as a whole that they’ve actually changed the course of history. In this timeline, we’ll show you the impacts insect epidemics have had on human history, and the role Orkin has played along the way.
Fleas Cause Bubonic Plague
Rodent fleas transmit bubonic plague to humans, which kills 60 percent of Europe’s population. Ultimately, this changes Europe’s economy completely, since wages are raised to help those who survive.
French Wine Industry Wiped Out by Phylloxera
Phylloxera, closely related to the aphid, wipe out the French wine industry. Afterward, studies show that hybridization and grafting cuttings onto stronger root systems help strengthen the plants.
Typhus Helps Destroy Napoleon’s Army
Typhoid fever, spread through lice, takes out Napoleon’s Army in Russia. Just one month into the campaign, Napoleon loses 80,000 soldiers to typhus and dysentery, which ultimately contributes to Napoleon’s retreat.
The Year of the Locusts
Locust swarms 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide completely decimate the farming industry in the U.S. Midwest.
Otto Orkin Begins Orkin Pest Control
When arsenic is first commercially produced in the U.S., 14-year-old Otto Orkin begins selling his special blend of rat poison door to door. As he develops his business over the years, he also helps fight insect- and pest-borne illness into the next century.
Malaria Discovered to Come from Mosquitoes
Sir Ronald Ross discovers that infected female mosquitoes are responsible for carrying malaria, a disease that still kills millions every year. Malaria is endemic in Africa, Central America, and much of Southern Asia and northern South America, and cases are still found in the U.S. today.
Bol Weevil Changes Farming
The bol weevil arrives in Alabama from Mexico. It remains the most destructive cotton pest in North America for much of the twentieth century, causing losses in the estimated billions of dollars. But farmers learn to diversify their crops, avoiding future losses.
Typhoid Fever Kills Millions Post WWI
Between 1918 and 1922, typhus causes at least 3 million deaths. In Russia after World War I, during the civil war between the White and Red armies, typhus kills 3 million people, largely civilians.
Body Lice Causes Deadly Typhus
Typhus, also known as a disease of war, is discovered to be carried by and transmitted to humans by body lice. Charles Nicolle receives the 1928 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his identification of lice as the transmitter of epidemic typhus.
DDT Is Invented
DDT — an insecticide used until the late 1960s — is invented. DDT is thought to have contributed to reduction in bed bug populations and was widely used by the government to control pests.
Orkin Proves Essential to War Efforts
Orkin used wagons like the one pictured above to make customer service calls during the gasoline rationing of World War II. The “V” on the side of the wagon stood for victory.
World War II Pestilence Takes Its Toll
It’s estimated that more than 1 million people overseas died during World War II due to vector-borne illnesses alone, such as typhus, malaria, dengue fever, scabies, sand fly fever and filariasis.
Termite Fumigation Method Perfected by Orkin
Drywood termites first become a problem in Florida, which leads to a tarp fumigation method that Orkin perfects by the 1950s. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) reports termite damage causes almost $5 billion a year for the American homeowner.
DDT Use Is Reduced
The federal government “phases out” all but “essential uses” of DDT within two years. The worldwide demand for DDT still increases as underdeveloped countries face the immediate desperate problems of feeding their populations and protecting their health.
Lyme Disease Is Discovered
Lyme disease, spread by the deer tick, is discovered in a small town in Connecticut. Children develop mysterious aches and pains as well as rashes that finally lead back to a parasite carried by deer ticks in the woods of Connecticut.
Orkin Exhibit Opens at Smithsonian
Orkin sponsors the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Visitors can observe live insects and their many-legged relatives. Learn more about the O. Orkin Insect Zoo.
West Nile Virus — Modern-Day Threat
West Nile Virus first appears in North America in late 1999, and since then more than 30,000 people in the U.S. have been reported with the virus. Luckily, Orkin offers mosquito control service to help reduce mosquito populations.
Orkin Partners with the CDC
Orkin partners with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help educate consumers about West Nile Virus.
Orkin Helps Fight Malaria in Africa
Orkin raises money for Nothing But Nets, which distributes insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to malaria-prone areas of Africa to help prevent the spread of malaria. By the end of 2011, Orkin raised more than $818,000 to purchase almost 82,000 nets.