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Los Angeles County to release sterilized mosquitoes to fight invasive species

Los Angeles County to use mosquitoes to combat invasive Aedes aegypti

Los Angeles County to use mosquitoes to combat invasive Aedes aegypti


Los Angeles County has launched its latest plan to combat an invasive species of mosquitoes using what may seem like a counterintuitive strategy.

“We’re targeting a species that’s responsible for transmitting really nasty diseases,” said Steve Vetrone, director of the Los Angeles County Vector Control District. “So we are looking for a new way to help us in our fight.”

The target is the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, also known as the yellow fever mosquito. The district said the species has spread rapidly in Los Angeles County over the past decade. Scientists hope to stem this growth with their new strategy called the sterile insect technique, or SIT.

“We use X-ray technology to sterilize non-biting male mosquitoes, and then those will be released to mate with wild females and this particular species,” Vetrone said.

Scientists decided to use this method because mosquitoes are resistant to common pesticides. They also deposit their eggs in small, hidden water sources in yards, backyards, patios, and other areas that mosquito control agencies cannot easily access.

The SIT will help reduce the population of these mosquitoes and reduce the possible threat of tropical diseases like dengue, chikungunya, zika and others.

“We’re looking to achieve a ratio of sterile males to wild males of about seven to ten to one,” Vetrone said.

West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control executed this plan in the Inner Empire. The males were raised and sterilized in a laboratory equipped with X-ray machines like those in Los Angeles County.

Released male mosquitoes cannot bite or spread disease, but can achieve the plan’s goals.

“Once that happens, those males will die,” Vetrone said. “These females mate with one of our infertile males; any sperm she collects, she will then store for all her batches of eggs. But, if she is mated with one of our infertile males, any sperm she collects she will then store for all her batches of eggs, if she mates with one of our males then none of the eggs she lays will be viable.

Male mosquitoes will be released in several areas, including neighborhoods like Alpine Village and Sevenhills in Sunland-Tujunga. This is not an overnight solution, but one that vector control has every confidence in moving forward.

“Even if they see a few more mosquitoes flying around, we’re not going to add to the biting pressure that they’re experiencing,” Vetrone said. “Hopefully in the next few months we’ll reduce this bite. It’s going to look worse before it gets better.”

The first sterilized male mosquitoes will be released on Thursday. Scientists will continue releasing mosquitoes every week until the end of October. Building on the success of the program, the district hopes to expand it to other areas.


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