Countywide sterile-mosquito program in the works to control population

Headlines last week read that the West Nile virus was found in mosquitoes collected in Signal Hill, and earlier this month there were two cases of the virus reported in Los Angeles county.

The Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District told the Signal Tribune Aug. 21 that it is planning to expand a sterile-male Asian Tiger mosquito program that would help control that species’ population. Although this species is not known to carry the West Nile virus, the GLACVCD is hoping the program can be used as an additional tool to control mosquito populations.

A pilot program was originally tested in south El Monte in 2015.

Anais Medina Diaz, a public information officer for the GLACVCD, told the Signal Tribune that a countywide program is in the testing and research phase of development, however, it may take years to release.

“We have only implemented the sterile-male tiger mosquito program in one city as a pilot program and hope to implement it in additional cities,” Diaz said. “Unfortunately, the resources that are needed to implement this at a larger scale (i.e. LA County) would be costly and resource intensive such as staff, rearing the amount of mosquitoes and data collection.”

The GLACVCD is working with other vector control districts in Southern California to launch a wider pilot program.

The sterile-male-mosquito method is being implemented in different cities around the country and in other parts of the world, Diaz said.

“We are looking at how it can become an additional tool for us to manage and control mosquitoes within our district,” she said.

The program works by releasing sterile, male Asian tiger mosquitoes in a localized area. The male mosquitoes do not bite and mate with female tiger mosquitoes found in the infestation zone. The eggs laid by the female mosquitoes will be sterile and will not hatch, and the male die soon after mating.

Although the Asian tiger mosquito does not carry the West Nile virus, Diaz said, this species can still transmit Zika, yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya.

“Currently, there is no local transmission of Zika, Yellow Fever, dengue fever or chikungunya in the county,” Diaz added.

The West-Nile carrying mosquitoes that were collected in Long Beach and Signal Hill were the native Culex mosquito species, and the sterilization program does not currently work on this species. The sterile Asian tiger mosquito program uses a natural bacteria that already exists in Culex species, Diaz said, and therefore would not be effective in controlling the Culex mosquito.

The GLACVCD is planning to launch another sterile, male-mosquito-pilot program in LA County next year.

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