UNITED STATES NEWS

Let skeeters feed on you for science? Welcome to front lines of mosquito control

Sep 10, 2023, 9:32 AM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It’s lunchtime at the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District and a colony of sabethes cyaneus — also known as the paddle-legged beauty for its feathery appendages and iridescent coloring — find their way to Ella Branham.

“They’re not very aggressive and they’re kind of picky eaters,” said Branham, a technician, as she exhaled into a glass tank to attract the insects to the carbon dioxide in her breath. “So I’ll be feeding them with my arm.”

Branham had volunteered to let the South American mosquitoes feed on her blood so they can produce eggs and maintain the colony for education and research at the lab in the Salt Lake City district. It’s one of the many mosquito control districts around the United States that seek to hold in check one of the world’s deadliest animals — one well-positioned to thrive as climate change fosters a warmer and wetter environment.

Mosquitoes can carry viruses including dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya and Zika. They are especially threatening to public health in Asia and Africa but are also closely monitored in the United States. Local agencies reported more than 1,100 cases of West Nile virus in 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Most humans who contract West Nile show no symptoms. But for some, it can cause vomiting, fever and in rare cases seizures or meningitis. Over roughly the last 25 years, nearly 3,000 deaths and more than 25,000 hospitalizations linked to West Nile were reported throughout the United States — most of them in August.

West Nile deaths have been reported this year in states including Texas and Colorado, and mosquitoes are thought to be the source of “locally acquired” malaria infections of people in Maryland, Florida and Texas.

Ary Faraji, an entomologist and the executive director of the Salt Lake City mosquito abatement district, said monitoring shows the mosquito season starting earlier and lasting longer as the climate has warmed. The district used to historically shut down each year in mid-September, but that has gotten later and later. Last year, district workers were still setting and checking traps until Thanksgiving.

And this year — where an abnormally snowy winter and a very rainy spring left more water across the landscape for mosquitoes to breed in — his staff estimated that there were five times as many mosquitos in May compared to the average year.

That’s where the health threat comes in. While both males and females feed on sugar or nectar throughout their lives, females require blood meals to nourish and develop their eggs.

“They are the true vixens,” Faraji said. “Some can be so beautiful and yet some can be so deadly.”

Faraji’s staff — made up of scientists and college and doctoral students — traps, sorts and tests mosquitos for viruses using drones, boats and ATVs. Their work takes into account how trends ranging from weather patterns to population growth will affect disease transmission.

“The more people you put in a closer vicinity of where the mosquitos are, the higher chance of pathogen transmission,” he said, noting the challenges of the wetland areas surrounding Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Though dangerous, mosquitoes are also critical to ecosystems throughout the world, with various species serving as pollinators or food sources to fish, birds and frogs.

“We try to maintain a balance and suppress them to the point that they’re not negatively affecting communities,” Faraji said. “Taking them away would definitely negatively impact our ecosystem overall.”

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting of 5 men following fight over parking space at a Detroit bar

DETROIT (AP) — A 32-year-old Detroit man has been charged in a shooting that wounded five people in what police say was a dispute over a parking space outside a blues club. Damond Hunter faces five counts of assault with intent to murder, five counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, one […]

7 minutes ago

Associated Press

Virginia law allows the state’s colleges and universities to directly pay athletes through NIL deals

Virginia’s governor signed a law Thursday that allows the state’s colleges and universities to directly pay athletes through name, image and likeness deals. The law signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin bypasses an NCAA rule that prevents schools from paying athletes under NIL guidelines. It takes effect on July 1. NIL rules, enacted in 2021, allow […]

20 minutes ago

Associated Press

A lab chief’s sentencing for meningitis deaths is postponed, extending grief of victims’ families

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan judge on Thursday suddenly postponed the sentencing of a man at the center of a fatal meningitis outbreak that hit multiple states, dismaying people who were poised to speak about their grief 12 years after the tragedy. The judge who took a no-contest plea from Barry Cadden retired in […]

44 minutes ago

Associated Press

Motorist dies in fiery crash when vehicle plows into suburban Chicago highway toll plaza, police say

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — A vehicle plowed into a suburban Chicago highway toll plaza early Thursday, engulfing it and the plaza in flames and killing the motorist, police said. Illinois State Police said troopers responded to the scene after receiving a report that a vehicle had struck the Barrington Road Toll Plaza along westbound […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Fire in truck carrying lithium ion batteries leads to 3-hour evacuation in Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Authorities evacuated an area of Ohio’s capital, Columbus, for several hours on Thursday out of fear that a fire in truck’s trailer could have caused lithium ion batteries to explode. Police began evacuating a several-block area west of downtown shortly after 7 a.m. and closed off several highway exits near the […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Man granted parole for his role in the 2001 stabbing deaths of 2 Dartmouth College professors

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A man who has served more than half of his life in prison for his role in the 2001 stabbing deaths of two married Dartmouth College professors as part of a plan to rob and kill people before fleeing overseas was granted parole Thursday. James Parker was 16 when he was […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Let skeeters feed on you for science? Welcome to front lines of mosquito control