In Brazil, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are rapidly transmitting the Zika virus. Save for common protection against the Zika mosquito, such as chemical repellent or mosquito nets, there is no vaccination or specific treatment to stop the disease from spreading.
Symptoms are not fatal but can cause fevers, rashes and muscle pain. The most damaging aspect of the virus is its link to birth defects among the newborn babies of those who suffered from the disease.
So what do we know about this mosquito that has been causing widespread fear? Here are 6 facts you might not know about the Zika mosquito.
- They thrive in urban areas.
Unlike many mosquitoes that tend to dwell in tropical jungles to breed in natural water sources, the mosquitoes that are spreading the Zika virus love living in built-up areas. There, they find areas of stagnant water to lay eggs, such as gutters, potholes or flower pots that have collected rainwater that has not evaporated. There is also a concentration of humans to feed on in cities.
- Only the females bite.
The females feed on the protein in blood in order to produce eggs. They feed almost exclusively on humans, and if they to pick up a disease from one person, they are likely to pass it on to their next victim.
- Mosquitos detect your location by smelling your breath.
The bugs have receptors on their antennae that detect the carbon dioxide that you exhale. They can also smell your sweat – the more you sweat, the more they bite.
- Most mosquitoes like tropical climates.
The Aedes aegypti resides in tropical and subtropical climates, which is why many worry that this species of mosquito could spread Zika across South America. According to the WHO, the Zika virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
- The Aedes aegypti has a cousin that could bring Zika to Europe.
Its cousin, Aedes albopictus, otherwise known as the Asian Tiger mosquito, likes cooler environments. It has been linked to chikungunya virus outbreaks, a disease with similar symptoms to Zika, in Italy and France. Therefore, there is the possibility this species could contribute to the spread of Zika in Europe.
- Mosquitoes feed in the day and the night.
Mosquitos feed in the day and the night. This means mosquito nets are not a very effective prevention method. Insect repellents, such as DEET, have worked in the past, but they are chemical-ridden and toxic for the human skin.
For the most part, symptoms of the Zika virus are relatively mild. Until another preventative measure or vaccine is available, the best way to avoid being bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes is to use common protection against mosquitoes, such as repellent, sprays and mosquito nets.
The WHO recommends that those suffering from the disease should rest, drink fluids and use common medicines to treat pain. Some strategies for controlling the spread of the disease are enhancing the surveillance of the virus, providing training on clinical management and strengthening the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus.
– Michelle Simon