Photo credit: Matt Twombly for NPR
By Malaka Gharib
Just how, exactly, could we wipe out a species of mosquito?
That’s the question some of our readers wanted to know after reading our story that pondered the fate of the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti. Would attempting to eliminate them be a good thing, or would it somehow backfire the ways things often do when humans meddle with nature?
Most scientists we interviewed, as it turns out, would be all right with saying goodbye to the species. Aedes aegypti carries other deadly diseases harmful to humans, like yellow fever and dengue. Animals don’t depend on this species as a major food source, and the critters don’t pollinate plants. And anyway, they’re an invasive species, infiltrating our cities, where they thrive.
So we asked experts: Do we have the means to get rid of a species of mosquito? And if they were in charge, how would they do it?
Here’s what they proposed.
Step 1: Appoint a world mosquito czar
In the past, there have been successful campaigns to eliminate disease-carrying mosquitoes from small regions. But even on a tiny scale, an incredible amount of political cooperation and strategic coordination was needed.
Andrew Read, a biologist and entomologist who specializes in the ecology and evolutionary genetics of infectious disease at Pennsylvania State University, shares an example from a port town in northeastern Brazil. In the mid-1900s, the government organized an effort to fight malaria by eradicating Anopheles gambie from an area about the size of West Virginia.
Not only was the government united in its goals, but it made sure to set up a careful plan to track progress. An official was in charge of a team that checked another team that checked the insecticide sprayers, says Read. They ended up spraying insecticide into a body of water the size of Switzerland.
To take on Aedes aegypti in the six continents where it lives, we’d need a global mosquito czar.
“Dictatorships are great things if you want to get public health done,” says Read. “These days, people in Florida have lots of paranoia about anyone coming on to their property to control mosquitoes. But in the old days, people just rolled over and did whatever the government told them.”
So let’s say that in a remarkable display of unity, all member nations of the U.N. agree to elect a mosquito czar and abide by the czar’s decrees. What comes next?
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