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Yellow fever mosquito invades southeast Utah

Aggressive bloodsucker loves to bite people

An aggressive mosquito that hides out in children’s toy trucks and wheelbarrows has invaded southeast Utah and it loves to bite people.
Adobe Stock

MOAB — An aggressive mosquito that hides out in children’s toy trucks and wheelbarrows has invaded southeast Utah and it loves to bite people.

What’s worse is that it is an efficient carrier of viruses that include yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika and the extremely rare chikungunya virus.

The detection of the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Moab area provoked a rapid, extensive and aggressive attack Wednesday and Thursday involving not only the Moab Mosquito Abatement District, but supporting crews from four northern Utah area districts: Davis, Tooele Valley, South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City.

“Unless control is very, very aggressive, these mosquitoes do tend to establish themselves,” said Ary Faraji, executive director of the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District and president elect of the American Mosquito Control Association.

Orion Rogers, director of environmental health for the Southeast Utah Health Department, stressed the species of mosquito may be efficient at transmitting those diseases, but first it would need a “host” population of infected humans.

“It is important to note without having a host population of humans infected with those diseases, there is no way for that mosquito to spread those diseases,” Rogers said.

Still, the mosquito has not been seen in the Moab Valley area before, so aggressive action was taken, he said.

Faraji’s district and other crews lent “boots on the ground” to stomp out the invasive pest that involved a fleet of trucks applying the pesticide Biomist, which contains a chemical deemed safe for use in residential and commercial areas.

Crews also went door to door to not only inform residents of the risks, but to do visual inspections, collect samples of larvae when present, and eliminate potential “collection areas” for this species of mosquito.

As an example, Faraji said if crews found a paper cup with water in it, the water was tossed and the cup thrown away. If a wheelbarrow contained water, it was tipped and placed in a position where it would no longer collect standing water.

Other containers that continue to collect water, such as a rain barrel, were treated with an insecticide that is safe for other organisms, he said.

The northern Utah districts, in addition to sending crews, provided larval sampling supplies, backpack sprayers, flashlights and chargers to augment the Moab district’s efforts.

“The issue with this species is that it is a very efficient vector of deadly and debilitating viruses,” Faraji said.

The yellow fever virus, typically found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America, is spread to people from the bite of an infected mosquito. While there are fewer than 1,000 cases in the United States per year, there is no cure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mild illnesses associated with the virus are fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, but severe cases may result in fatal heart, liver and kidney conditions.

The CDC reports that each year, 400 million people get infected with dengue and about 22,000 people die from severe dengue. Infants and pregnant women are at most of risk of getting severe dengue, along with those who have had it before.

Zika can be transmitted from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus and through sex. The CDC says there is not any local transmission of Zika in the United States. It is contracted most commonly from a mosquito bite while traveling abroad.

Symptoms of the chikungunya virus are mostly commonly joint pain and fever, and there’s no vaccine to prevent infection or medicine to address it.

The CDC advises the best way to combat risk is to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants.

A public service announcement put out by the Moab Mosquito District came with this plea for residents’ help:

  • Drain or dump any and all standing water on your property.
  • If you need to provide water for your animals, please do your very best to empty every day and refill.
  • If you need help, ask a neighbor, a friend, a relative. Do a search of your entire property for any standing water and dump it.

The district advised residents that this species prefers to lay eggs in “micro habitats,” including outdoor plants with pans under them to collect water, leaky swamp coolers, scummy chicken or other animal water, and water that could collect in trash or garbage.

These mosquitoes also bite during the day and, once established, will expand their territory, Faraji warned.

“If it does become established in Moab it is highly likely it will move northward into our bigger population,” he said. “What is happening in Moab will affect the rest of us in this state.”

Contributing: Dan Bammes