New mosquito emoji scratches itch of public health workers, smartphone users

Thanks to a pair of public health workers, a mosquito emoji is coming to a smartphone near you.

The Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization that approves and encodes emojis, announced 157 new emoji Wednesday. Among them: a pesky little mosquito, proposed by Marla Shaivitz, a digital communications manager at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs, and Jeff Chertack, a senior program officer for global health communications at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Shaivitz found out the mosquito made the cut Wednesday when her sister sent her a YouTube video announcing the new emojis.

“We kind of had an inkling that it would make it because it was a finalist, but it was great to get the official word,” she said.

As the deadliest animal on earth, and the subject of “nearly 15,000 more mosquito-related tweets shared per day than beetle-related tweets,” mosquitoes are certainly worthy of their own emoji, Shaivitz and Chertack wrote in their pitch.

“Initially I was surprised that it wasn’t already an emoji,” Shaivitz said. “There are very few insect emojis, so it seemed like a natural contender, but I don’t know how [Unicode] operates and I knew I had to make a good case for it.”

No one needs to be convinced of the annoyance of mosquitoes, but Shaivitz and Chertack also brought a public health angle to their proposal. The researchers envision the emoji being used in communications campaigns and warnings; it could call attention, for example, to the work Shaivitz does at Hopkins promoting malaria- and Zika-related research.

Shaivitz called the outpouring of mosquito emoji excitement “overwhelming.” Public health organizations have expressed interest in the emoji, she said, but there are also plenty of applications for the regular smartphone user.

“People in the summer in Baltimore I can see using it,” Shaivitz said. “In Miami and in Florida they’re really excited about a mosquito emoji.”

Shaivitz got a kick out of some other new emojis, too, namely the sliced bagel, peacock and lacrosse stick. (She’s not alone in that one.)

The new emojis will be released in June. Expect them to start popping up on smartphones in August or September.

qkelley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/quinnrkelley

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