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What is medical entomology? Insects that cause and transmit diseases

Medical entomology studies insects and other arthropods of health interest, either because they themselves can cause diseases or because they can take part in their transmission as vectors. Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII) has a Medical Entomology Laboratory, at the National Center for Microbiology (CNM) which is managed by Ricardo Molina and Maribel Jiménez.

The Medical Entomology laboratory has several research lines. It studies insects and arthropods which transmit diseases of interest in public health, researching on insect colonies in the laboratory, experimental infections, entomological surveys and infectivity studies of potential reservoirs of diseases such as Leishmaniasis, among many others issues.

Ricardo Molina highlights the importance of medical entomology: "Vector-borne diseases represent 17% of infectious diseases, and cause more than 700,000 deaths a year in the world. Malaria, yellow fever, dengue, leishmaniasis, are good examples. Arthropods have a great impact on human and animal health". As he explains, the laboratory has "a double aspect: fieldwork and laboratory work", and acts as a reference center for the National Health System (SNS). Also to provide the basis for the investigation of autochthonous, emerging and reemerging diseases, "which lately have more importance in Spain".


Molina and Jiménez team also evaluate insecticides and repellents effectiveness, and analyzes the resistance to their action. They also use the phlebotome-Leishmania entomological model as test prototypes of leishmaniasis vaccines. They have performed genomic and proteomic studies on phlebotome saliva, which they inject when itching, as well as on exposure markers against it and its usefulness in the development of vaccines.

On the other hand, the laboratory also does fieldwork, monitoring airports and ports to search imported exotic insects. In this sense, since 2007, it co-leads the Entomological Surveillance Program in Airports and Ports against Potential Vectors of Exotic Infectious Diseases. Thanks to this activity, the Medical Entomology Laboratory collaborates in the elaboration of the Aedes albopictus expansion map in Spain, mosquito that acts as a vector in the transmission of diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and West Nile Virus.

The team of Molina and Jiménez also participates in the studies on ticks transmitting of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever in Spain, and is involved in the entomological studies initiated in 2018 as a result of dengue native cases detection.

Photo legend: Ricardo Molina and Maribel Jiménez (in the middle) principal investigators of the Medical Entomology Laboratory (CNM), together with Daniel Fernández, laboratory technician, and David Díaz-Regañón, research assistant.