Asian Tiger Mosquito’s Disease-Spreading Potential Worries Health Officials

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The Asian tiger mosquito (Greater L.A. County Vector Control District)

At least 28 people in California this year have died from West Nile virus, the neurologically debilitating disease spread through mosquito bites. Riverside and Los Angeles counties both recorded a surge in human infections not seen in several years.

But with peak West Nile virus season coming to an end, attention is shifting to a potentially virulent mosquito species rarely seen in California; the Asian tiger mosquito.

The non-native, disease-carrying pest has been spotted throughout Los Angeles County and other parts of the Southland.

“I think it’s important to let people know what the potential risks are, and how we can take precautions to prevent the mosquitoes from spreading” says Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

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O’Farrell hosted a public meeting about the potential health risks of the Asian tiger mosquito in L.A.'s Silverlake district on Monday.

The main worry is over how quickly the Asian tiger mosquito multiplies, reproducing in large numbers and spreading potentially fatal diseases at rates not previously seen with native mosquito species.

The petri dish on the right holds samples of the Asian Tiger mosquito.
The petri dish on the right holds samples of the Asian tiger mosquito. (Tena Rubio / KQED)

The black-and-white-striped bloodsucking member of the Culicidae family hasn’t been categorized as a major public health crisis yet. But the pest’s gradual migration across parts of Southern California and other parts of the state is being closely tracked.

“Currently there’s nothing that these guys are transmitting locally, but we are concerned that they have the potential to," says Kelly Middleton of the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.

“They’re excellent vectors and transmitters of diseases like dengue virus and chikungunya,” says Middleton, who brought samples of the Asian tiger mosquito to Monday’s public meeting.

Middleton says the Asian tiger is unusually aggressive and resilient, and unlike mosquitoes normally seen in the state can come out to feed during the day and during times of the year when mosquitoes usually go dormant.

“Our job is to proactively monitor mosquito populations and mosquito numbers to keep those numbers down as much as possible," says Middleton.

The Greater L.A. County Vector Control District’s Kelly Middleton after a public meeting in Los Angeles on Monday
The Greater L.A. County Vector Control District’s Kelly Middleton after a public meeting in Los Angeles on Monday (Tena Rubio )

“The biggest challenge we have are in people’s backyards, where we don’t have easy access,” says Middleton.

The Asian tiger lays its eggs along the waterline of buckets, used tires, plant saucers and even bottle caps that hold water for long periods of time. Thoroughly dumping that water out can make a huge difference in reducing the spread of the mosquito.

Residents should also re-examine those locations where the mosquitoes can thrive. That’s because Asian tiger mosquito eggs can remain alive for years without water, and then hatch when the conditions are more favorable.