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Asian Tiger Mosquito Could Spread U.S. Disease

Present in more than half of states, the bloodthirsty parasite transmits a host of viruses

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And now, Hamer said, California has been added to the list.

"The thing about this particular species is that it breeds and travels very well in small warm container environments," with an uncanny ability to adapt and thrive in shifting temperatures, he explained. "And it turns out that humans are really good at providing those spaces. A tire, a flower pot, a bucket, urns at cemeteries. All these are classic holders of stagnant water, which is all they need to hop from one country to another, one state to another."

And so, Hamer noted, "it's been going everywhere. Europe, certain parts of Africa, South America, and now here," where its aggressive mating habits have run roughshod over other local mosquito populations (such as the yellow fever mosquito), essentially replacing one illness-bearing mosquito threat with another.

But has the Asian tiger mosquito's troublesome potential really lived up to its hype?

"I would say that for the moment, while the concern is real and we should be paying a lot of attention to this particular mosquito, so far it doesn't seem to be playing a major pathogen-spreading role in the U.S.," Hamer suggested.

"Chikungunya hasn't come to the U.S. yet, and that's comforting. At the same time, this is a very aggressive mosquito that feeds during the day, rather than from dusk to dawn, which is different from the way West Nile virus was spread, by a mosquito that fed at night. So we're talking about the need for a kind of all-day vigilance against getting bitten that the American public is not really familiar with," he pointed out.

"So the bottom line is that if chikungunya does show up, this mosquito could be the vector for it," Hamer said. "And that means it's important that we have protective virus surveillance up and running throughout the country, which we already do. So that once things show up we can react quickly."

But as experts watch and wait, what can people do to protect themselves?

According to Ruiz-Moreno: "The best strategy is to reduce exposure to potentially infective mosquitoes, either by avoiding contact or reducing mosquito population in the wild. At home, we recommend removing all sources of standing water. And when going outside we need to wear insect repellent and cover up with long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquito bites."

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