There are currently 33 countries in the Americas that have been identified as sources of the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) mosquito. The yellow fever mosquito is known to carry the Zika virus which is responsible for birth defects such as microcephaly, as well as other neurological abnormalities. Many of these regions have limited funding so the need for a cost effective solution is one of great concern. Health authorities in the United States are bracing for a possible epidemic of their own. In fact with a mild winter and hot summer ahead, researchers indicate that the risk of infection will be ever greater than previously anticipated.
Researchers in Canada and Mexico are working on an innovative solution that is cost-effective and capable of killing tens of thousands of mosquito eggs in a short period of time and it is all done using spare car parts. The devise known as the “ovillanta” is made of two sections of a recycled car tire and has proven to be a simple yet effective method in the fight against mosquitoes.
The tire is cut into half circles before being molded into a mouth-like shape, the bottom of the device is filled with a milk-based solution that is specially designed to attract mosquitoes. A valve is used to release the liquid that sits at the bottom of the tire allowing scientists to filter and drain the liquid for further research.
Mosquitoes have been known to thrive inside tires and other containers; in fact tires are an ideal breeding ground as they are capable of containing heat and collecting rain water to provide the perfect environment for female mosquitoes to safely reproduce. The yellow fever mosquito which carries the Zika virus and other infectious diseases has a special affinity for discarded tires.
Modern civilization has provided opportunities for mosquitoes to travel around the world in literally billions of used tires. In fact in 1985, a large population of the Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquito was discovered in Houston, Texas, which was traced back to tires that had been shipped from Japan. Incidentally, the Asian tiger mosquito has also been documented in the spread of Zika virus.
Canadian and Mexican researchers are working at beating the mosquitoes at their own game. By using the tires to lure in the mosquitoes scientists have created a “pond” inside the tires which is a perfect place to lay eggs. At the bottom of the pond is a strip of paper to collect the newly laid eggs. Every couple of days, scientists or health workers will remove the strips and destroy the eggs.
Scientists filter the liquid before reintroducing it back into the ovillanta, which allows the pheromones produced by the female mosquitoes during the egg laying process to attract more mosquitoes. The stronger the pheromone, the more appealing it is to other mosquitoes which have essentially allowed the program to be so successful. Old tires, paper stripes and a milky white chemical concoction is a cost-effective solution to eradicate disease spreading mosquitoes. Researchers have good reason to use tires because they already represent 29% of the breeding sites that are preferred by the yellow fever mosquito, are affordable and also because it gives communities a chance to clean up the local environment.
While the project is still in its early stages, the innovative design of the mosquito trap combined with specialized training of health works and community awareness in mosquito control is certainly the beginning of putting a stop to blood borne pathogens like the Zika virus.