‘Knuckle-biters’ mosquito discovered with West Nile in Santa Barbara

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Employees at the Vector Management District of Santa Barbara found that at least one of the 47 mosquitoes they recently caught from La Cumbre Road and Highway 192 tested positive for the West Nile virus.

“There is no need to panic, but there is cause for concern,” said Brian Cabrera, the district’s general manager. Cabrera noted that the invasive species they tested – Aedes aegypti, also known as the “knuckle-bite” mosquito – are typically not associated with the West Nile but are considered to be unusually aggressive towards humans. In addition, it is an indoor and outdoor mosquito that does not, like most species, limit its blood-sucking foraging to dawn and dusk.

Like all mosquitoes, this species needs stagnant pools of water in which to lay its eggs, but can get by with considerably less water. “With these, a bottle cap filled with water is sufficient,” said Cabrera.

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The Aedes aegypti originally come from Africa and came to California in 2013. The West Nile Virus is not new to California or Santa Barbara. Like many viruses, it originates from birds but is transmitted by mosquitoes and first made itself felt in 2014 when it infected 801 people and claimed 53 lives. Usually 80 percent of those infected feel nothing at all. Flu-like symptoms occur in 20 percent. And less than one percent get seriously ill, with either encephalitis or meningitis.

Vector Management has 20 mosquito traps through which it rotates. In this case, 47 mosquitoes were rounded up, placed in a jar, their bodies pulverized with glass beads, and then placed in a centrifuge which separates their body parts, leaving a small DNA-rich pellet of debris to be tested. Testing individual mosquitoes, explained Cabrera, would not be technically feasible and would be costly. Because of this, he cannot tell if all 47 mosquitoes were positive or just one.

In the meantime, he preaches the Fight the Bite gospel of the Five Ds. The first two are Drain and Dump, which refer to all available standing water sources. The next two are Dawn and Dusk, the time Cabrera warns the public to stay indoors. and the last is Deet, an EPA sacred repellant that Cabrera said is also effective.

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