Zika: Authorities in Miami struggle to contain 'little ninja' mosquito

Health workers trying to stem spread of virus on American mainline say Aedes aegypti is proving a difficult species to eradicate

Tuesday 02 August 2016 22:31 BST
A mosquito control worker sprays around a home in the Wynwood area of Miami, where 14 cases of Zika have been recorded. Pregnant women have been warned to stay away
A mosquito control worker sprays around a home in the Wynwood area of Miami, where 14 cases of Zika have been recorded. Pregnant women have been warned to stay away (AP)

The mosquitoes spreading Zika in Miami are proving more difficult to eradicate than expected, the nation's top disease-fighter said as authorities sprayed the ground-zero neighbourhood, emptied paddling pools and handed out cans of insect repellent to the homeless.

Tom Frieden, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said the mosquito-control efforts were not achieving the hoped-for results, suggesting the pests were resistant to insecticides and were still finding standing water in which to breed in the bustling urban neighborhood.

"We're not seeing the number of mosquitoes come down as rapidly as we would have liked," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Mosquito control experts said that was no surprise to them, describing the Aedes aegypti mosquito as a "little ninja" capable of hiding in tiny crevices, sneaking up on people's ankles, and breeding in just a bottle cap of standing water.

Fourteen people are believed to have become infected with Zika from bites in Miami's Wynwood arts district — the first mosquito-transmitted cases on record in the mainland US, which has been girding for months against the epidemic coursing through Latin America and the Caribbean.

On Monday, the CDC instructed pregnant women to avoid the neighbourhood, marking what is believed to be the first time in the agency's 70-year history that it warned people not to travel somewhere in the US. The Zika virus can cause severe brain-related defects, including disastrously small heads.

At the same time, American health authorities have said they don't expect major outbreaks in this country, in part because of better sanitation and the use of air conditioners and window screens.

However, it has been a major source of concern for athletes arriving in Rio de Janeiro for the start of the Olympic Games at the weekend.

Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspectors went door to door in Wynwood on Tuesday, handing out information, checking tyres and other objects for standing water, and dipping cups to take water samples from vacant lots, building sites and backyards. In one lush yard, an inspector tipped over a paddling pool and a cooler full of water.

Team GB talk Zika

Daily aerial spraying for adult mosquitoes and larvae has been approved for the next four weeks over a 10-square-mile area around Wynwood, county officials said. Also, the city of Miami is running extra street-sweeping routes to remove the litter and stagnant water that can serve as breeding grounds.

Because of environmental regulations governing which chemicals can be used as insecticides, mosquito control authorities cannot easily switch to another compound if bugs prove resistant to it.

Nothing has worked to stop this mosquito elsewhere in the world except for the introduction of mosquitoes modified to pass on genes that kill their offspring, said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. And the Food and Drug Administration has not given approval to that approach in the US.

"We have to totally rethink mosquito control for Aedes aegypti," he added. "It's like a little ninja. It's always hiding."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in