Asian Tiger Mosquito Could Spread U.S. Disease
Present in more than half of states, the bloodthirsty parasite transmits a host of viruses
By Alan Mozes
FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- What's striped black-and-white, packs a nasty bite and is a tireless spreader of disease? No, it's not a B-movie horror creature -- it's the Asian tiger mosquito.
And though a relative newcomer to the American scene, experts now warn that this intruder is starting to create a fearsome buzz, with the potential to cause havoc across the United States. So far, however, it hasn't led to widespread disease in this country.
"What we have here is an invasive daytime-feeding, disease-carrying mosquito that, since it first arrived on the East Coast in the 1980s, has been pretty aggressive in mowing down its natural competitors," said Gabe Hamer, a clinical assistant professor in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University. "And now it's really starting to move through the country in full force."
"That makes it, at the very least, a nuisance and an annoyance," Hamer explained. "And at worst, a serious vector for major pathogens."
On its Asian home turf, the mosquito is a well-known carrier of dengue fever, with West Nile fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis among the other debilitating illnesses for which it has been pegged as a transmitter.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mosquito has so far been identified as a host for five different viruses in the United States. Two of those -- encephalomyelitis and Cache Valley -- can infect humans, while the others are a threat to dogs, cats, birds and other animals.
But U.S. experts are perhaps most alarmed that this mosquito potentially could become a prime North American vector for a particularly nasty joint and muscle pain illness for which there is neither a vaccine nor treatment: the Chikungunya virus.
Such concerns have escalated in light of recent research, such as that funded by the U.S. National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and reported in the January issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, which cautions that an imminent mosquito-driven American outbreak of the Chikungunya virus is a very real threat.
"The ongoing invasion of the Asian tiger mosquito in the U.S.A. represents an important risk," agreed Diego Ruiz-Moreno, a postdoctoral associate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, who led the recent study. "Mainly because of the potential for disease to spread."
Otherwise known as Aedes albopictus, the CDC notes that the Asian tiger mosquito was first spotted on the U.S. mainland in 1985. Since that initial Houston sighting, it has spread across 26 states, moving as far north as Chicago, as far east as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as far west as Nebraska, and across a broad swath of the South, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.