A Vector in the (Re)Making: A History of Aedes aegypti as Mosquitoes that Transmit Diseases in Brazil

  • Gabriel Lopes
  • Luísa Reis-Castro
Part of the Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Modern History book series (MBSMH)


In the histories of Zika, dengue, and yellow fever in Brazil, which span more than a century, the vector of these viruses, the black-and-white striped Aedes aegypti, has always been framed as the ‘epidemic villain’, as the assumed culprit and the target of governmental policies to control the pathogens it can carry. In this chapter, however, we examine the A. aegypti’s historical trajectory to show how, although there is a continuity in dominant designations of the mosquito as the villain, the epidemiological and political meanings of these virus-mosquito-human interactions significantly change over time. By juxtaposing the analysis of the making of the vector in three historical moments in Brazil as the A. aegypti carried three different viruses (yellow fever, dengue, and Zika), we highlight the importance of the virus-mosquito dyad in the making of the vector. Furthermore, we argue that the mosquito as a vector carried not only three epidemiologically distinct pathogens, but also very different political desires, struggles, and debates.



The authors would like to, first, thank the financial support that made this research possible. Gabriel Lopes was funded by the Newton Fund and FIOCRUZ. Luísa Reis-Castro was supported by an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council; a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (BCS-1823376) from the National Science Foundation—Cultural Anthropology Program; and a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant (Gr. 9677) from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. We would like to thank Marcos Cueto, Randall Packard, Ilana Löwy, and the participants of the IUAES panel ‘Anthropology and environmental health’, organised by Jean Segata, Andrea Mastrangelo, and Bernardo Lewgoy, who offered insightful comments to presentations of parts of this research. We are also thankful to Stefan Helmreich, Túllio Maia, Carolina Nogueira, and Harriet Rivo for reading a draft of this chapter and to the lecturers at MIT’s Writing Center for helping us navigate the English language, especially Marilyn Levine who guided us in the difficult task of trying to organise our ideas and write one hundred years of history. We would also like to thank the editor, Christos Lynteris, for the invitation to join this collection and for his feedback and support. This chapter is a consequence of the collaborative environment fostered by the Rede Zika Ciências Sociais, for which we are profoundly grateful.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel Lopes
    • 1
  • Luísa Reis-Castro
    • 2
  1. 1.Casa de Oswaldo CruzRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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