Aedes aegypti, the exotically named mosquito that transmits the Zika virus, defies almost everything Americans think they know about mosquitoes, which means that even experts know very little about how to control them.
Think mosquitoes live in the woods? Not this one.
The female Aedes aegypti — the ones that bite — hang out in your house, preferably under your bed. If door and window screens block her entrance into your house, she will settle down under your patio furniture.
And unlike the mosquitoes that most cities target for destruction each summer, the Aedes aegypti doesn’t swarm or bite at night.
With the prospect of Zika spreading the continental U.S. this summer, experts say the country must map exactly where the species lives and urgently rethink its standard operating procedures for controlling mosquitoes.
Protecting Americans from Zika virus is critical. The virus causes devastating birth defects and is strongly linked to a variety of serious neurological conditions, including a form of paralysis called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“There is no good method for killing these mosquitoes that’s being used on a widespread basis,”
said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.
Recent efforts to kill the Aedes aegypti, which also transmits the viral diseases dengue and chikungunya,
“don’t give us much reason for optimism,”
said Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University ofTexas Medical Branch in Galveston.
“In the near term, it’s a lost cause.”
Eradication is also stymied by a lack of information about exactly where these mosquitoes live, Weaver said.
Knowing which cities and counties they inhabit could help communities target their efforts.
“In a lot of places in the U.S., people don’t know if Aedes aegypti is there or not,”
Many communities are using mosquito-killing methods that don’t work on the Aedes aegypti, Doyle said.
While aerial spraying or fogging from a truck after can kill the Culex mosquitoes that can spread West Nile virus and or the”nuisance” mosquitoes that annoy people but don’t spread disease, these methods have no effect on the Aedes aegypti, Doyle said.
“We cannot spray our way out of this,”
said Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County, Texas, Public Health and Environmental Services, at a national summit on Zika preparedness in April.
Aerial spraying won’t “get to the mosquito that’s sitting on the wall of your bedroom,”
said David Dyjack, executive director of the National Environmental Health Association.
In Brazil, which is contending with a widespread outbreak of Zika, officials have tried a number of approaches to controlling the Aedes aegypti, said Mauro Martins Teixeira of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil.
“We haven’t done anything to dramatically change their numbers,”
So what’s the best way to kill the Aedes aegypti? “The bottom line is that we don’t know how,”
said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.