4 Things to Know About the Aedes Aegypti: The Mosquito that Carries Deadly Diseases

The Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito most likely responsible of the spread of the Zika virus, is able to survive in northern climates.
The Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito most likely responsible of the spread of the Zika virus, is able to survive in northern climates. Erik F. Brandsborg
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Now gaining notoriety as the chief suspect behind the worldwide Zika virus scare, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito has a long history of spreading viral diseases. This particularly nasty species of mosquito is responsible for outbreaks of dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya in Africa, Asia, Central and South America.

Ae. Aegypti has even made its home in the southern and southwestern regions of the United States and has show an ability to survive in even more temperate, northern climates. Yet no native mosquitoes are believed to have infected the more than 300 people in the U.S. confirmed to have contracted the Zika virus—nearly a fourth of those in Florida—by early April. All of these cases have involved people who traveled outside the U.S. where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent.

Nevertheless, it may only be a matter of time before mosquitoes are hatched here, or are inadvertently transported from overseas, and start spreading Zika. While the virus causes only mild and short-lived symptoms in 80 percent of those infected, in a small percentage of cases, a rare neurological disease is triggered or causes brain defects in the fetuses of pregnant women.

Given that no vaccine exists, it’s best to arm oneself with the facts about the Ae. Aegypti mosquito and act accordingly.

1. The Most Likely Cause of Zika

Despite widespread reporting to the contrary, the Ae. Aegypti mosquito is not confirmed as the vector for the spread of the Zika virus, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada. Another species of mosquito that’s more common in Brazil—where 1.5 million people are infected with the Zika virus, more than 900 newborns have microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, and nearly 150 deaths are attributed to Zika—could be responsible.

Experts have reason to suspect the Ae. Aegypti, but they’re simply not certain. The Zika virus is also sexually transmissible. But the cautionary measures advocated, following the World Health Organization’s health emergency declaration, is based on the assumption that the black-and-white striped Ae. Aegypti mosquito, which tend to bite during the day and indoors, are the primary villains.

Until that leading theory is definitively proven, people in areas of the world where these mosquitoes exist ought to do whatever they can to protect themselves. Afterall, the _Ae. Aegypt_i are known carriers of other deadly viruses.

2. The Mosquito Breeding Ground

It's no surprise that swampy Florida has the most outbreaks of the Zika virus, but mosquitos can breed in any standing water. Joel Sowers

Ae. Aegypti mosquitoes bite during the day, not just at dusk and dawn, and like to be indoors. They get there by breeding on wet shower floors and in toilet tanks. But the females will also lay their eggs close to homes in water storage containers with organic matter, such as leaves and algae, found in shaded areas.

Among likely breeding spots, the CDC lists “flower pots, discarded tires, plates under potted plants, cemetery vases, flower pots, buckets, tin cans, clogged rain gutters, ornamental fountains, drums, water bowls for pets, and birdbaths.” The agency states this species of mosquito has also been found underground in unsealed septic tanks, storm drains, wells, and water meters.

Eggs take about a week to hatch and the mosquitoes that emerge live another two to four weeks. Even in dry conditions, the eggs can be viable for a year, allowing the mosquitos to re-emerge .

3. Infecting Humans

The females of this mosquito species acquires the virus by feeding on the blood of an infected person and then transmits it to others humans through subsequent biting, according to WHO. Although an infective mosquito doesn’t fly more than a few hundred feet from its birthplace, they can rapidly help spread the virus from person to person.

Some pets are vulnerable, too. Ae. Aegypti can give a form of contagious leukemia to Syrian hamsters, the most popular hamsters sold by pet stores.

And because these mosquitoes breed indoors, window screens and insect repellents geared for outdoor use are less effective. Indoor climate controls increase their lifespans, although turning on air conditioning systems is believed to be a means of killing them.

4. Mosquito Control

The mosquitos most likely to spread the Zika virus bite all day long, not just in the early morning and evening. XNAHandkor

Because Ae. Aegypti thrive in and near homes, emptying sources of stagnant water is imperative. For instance, well-meaning property owners with rain barrels—which reduce stormwater runoff and provide alternative sources of water for lawn care—need to make sure the containers are secure and not a breeding ground for the bugs.

Other precautions to take include wearing long sleeves and pants or clothing dosed with permethrin, applying insect repellents containing lemon eucalyptus or DEET (just not under clothing), and using spatial repellents to clear decks and patios.

But because Ae. Aegypti bite indiscriminately day and night, other means of population control exist. Lethal ovitraps are devices that trap and kill mosquito eggs with a larvicide. Argentinian researchers are currently developing an ovitrap in the form of a plastic cup that, when filled with water, releases the larvicide pyriproxyfen.

Pyriproxyfen itself was falsely believed to cause microcephaly in unborn infants in Brazil, according to news reports. The Entomological Society of America, however, debunked this by pointing out that pyriproxyfen, a hormone that prevents insect larvae from developing into adults, has been used safely for decades in the U.S. as a flea control agent for dogs and cats. It is also one of several pesticides recommended by the WHO.

Written by Joel Patenaude for RootsRated in partnership with Thermacell and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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