Chances are you’ve been stung by a mosquito at one point or another, red, itchy bumps popping up overnight. The blood sucking insects thrive in warm and wet climates, and as temperatures rise around the world (yes, even in December), they won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Keeping these pests away is more than just an added annoyance, it’s actually vitally important for our health as they are known carriers of a variety of diseases.
When a mosquito, typically a female, sucks the blood out of an infected host, they become infected themselves. The virus multiplies inside their bodies, and then they go on to infect their next host.
While not all mosquitoes have the ability to spread diseases, the ones that can — namely the Aedes — are spreading like wildfire, says Susanne Kluh, Director of Scientific and Technical Services for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. Los Angeles County is home to two particularly troubling types of invasive Aedes mosquitoes: the Aedes albopictus and the Aedes aegypti (often called the Asian Tiger mosquito). The latter gets its name because they arrived in the US from a shipment of lucky bamboo from China in 2001 and have been found to be carriers of diseases like the West Nile Virus and avian malaria.
But what makes the Aedes’s presence even more worrisome is that we’re completely unprepared on how to deal with them.
This type of mosquito species needs significantly less water in order to lay eggs, are more active during the day, prefer human hosts, and will bite multiple times until they get the amount of blood they desire.
If you’re frantically reaching for the nearest can of Off!, you’re not the only one. In order to combat them, a number of interesting techniques have been rolled out. On Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago, researchers are using drones to spray rice fields in order to drown their mosquito population. Aquatain AMF, a non-toxic colorless solution creates a film on the water’s surface that traps mosquitoes underneath. Using drones to apply this type of substance is ideal because it’s a way to effectively spray the paddies in one sweep. Aquatain spreads evenly and the risk of malaria is reduced. Everyone wins — that is, if you don’t live near a rice field.
US local governments have tried to implement a similar tactic, but have hit a few snags. Michigan’s Kalamazoo County announced that aircraft would spray the area with insecticide. The plan was to spray with Merus 3.0, a substance that contains a mixture of plant-derived chemicals (collectively called pyrethrins) that is approved for use on organic farms to curb the increased threat of disease. Residents, however, were wary of the insecticide’s potential toxicity. Even so, county officials assured the public that the effects were unharmful and commenced the spraying anyway, citing the public health risk of inaction.
A separate part of the problem is that using aircraft, specifically drones, near or on residential areas is too loud. However, the noise might actually help combat the problem. Mechanical engineers at Johns Hopkins University used computer modeling to study the aerodynamics and acoustics of mosquito mating rituals. They discovered that mosquitoes used their wings both to stay in the air and to emit a sound to attract mates. By studying this, we can find a way to disrupt this mating call and make it much more difficult for mosquitoes to breed, effectively stopping the problem at the source. If done well, this would be a viable, non-toxic solution.
While the above are solutions the powers at be are trying, the rest of us need a fix to the mosquito problem, today. Luckily there are a few things we can do to maintain our distance. Helpful tips include regularly cleaning pools and aerating any typically moist or muggy areas like trash cans or drainage pipes. (Basically, get rid of or cover any unused, still water.) Other things you can do on a more personal level are to try a DIY mixture or an organic repellent spray like Kinfield’s Golden Hour DEET-free repellent.
Johanie Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter at @jmartdotcom or on Medium at @jmcools.