Integrated Mosquito Management Protects People and Animals From Mosquitoes
By Jennifer R. Gordon, Ph.D.
“Mosquitoes are the best,” said no one ever. Adult females of most mosquito species require a blood meal from unwitting hosts to produce eggs. The hunt for blood and drive to reproduce can result in mosquitoes biting people, causing a variety of reactions ranging from nothing to itchy, red welts that leave their sufferer with an annoying reminder of the encounter. Unfortunately, sometimes these bites transmit microscopic invaders that cause terrible diseases in humans and animals such as West Nile, Zika, yellow fever, malaria, dengue, St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, dog heartworm, and many more.
Mosquitoes and their associated diseases have impacted humanity throughout history. However, proof that mosquitoes could transmit pathogens and get people sick only occurred relatively recently, in the late 19th century. Until then, doctors and other public health practitioners attributed some mosquito-transmitted diseases to other causes such as miasma, or bad air.
To protect people and animals from mosquitoes and disease, organized mosquito control efforts in the United States began in the early 1900s. More than a century of practice and research has proven science-based mosquito control, called integrated mosquito management, as the best way to manage mosquitoes and reduce pathogen transmission in an area while minimizing the impact to the environment.
This year, the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revised and updated its free Best Practices for Integrated Mosquito Management manual . As the manual covers in detail, ideal integrated mosquito management uses five core tactics:
1. Engaging the Community Regularly
Protecting people and animals from mosquito bites and the pathogens they may carry requires participation from everyone in the community. Mosquito control professionals cannot know the location of all mosquito breeding habitats and adult mosquito resting sites. To recruit and educate people, mosquito control personnel regularly engage the community through activities such as fliers, booths at festivals, social media posts, and interactive games—to name a few. Only through partnership can mosquito control professionals and community members best protect everyone from the threat of mosquitoes.
2. Surveillance, Mapping, and Rational Setting of Action Thresholds
Science-based mosquito control requires data to make decisions. Routine surveillance of mosquito populations, breeding habitats, and pathogens in the environment informs mosquito control personnel about what mosquitoes and pathogens are in the environment, how many, and when they first appear. Professionals then make treatment decisions by visualizing the information on maps and comparing the data to pre-determined action thresholds.
3. Physical Control Through Manipulation of Mosquito Habitat
All mosquito species require water to reproduce. Eliminating standing water and suitable mosquito breeding habitats in the environment prevents adult mosquitoes from maturing and eventually biting humans. Manipulating the landscape can require a coordinated effort between mosquito control personnel, landowners, engineers, and government officials; however, altering and preventing suitable mosquito breeding habitats helps protect people from mosquitoes.
4. Larval and Adult Mosquito Management Using Multiple Tools Including Source Reduction, Biological Control, and Targeted Insecticides
Integrated mosquito management places an emphasis on using all options reasonable and available to kill mosquitoes when necessary. Some mosquitoes that threaten public health utilize manmade containers to reproduce, so tossing out standing water and removing the container (when possible) eliminates the source of adult mosquitoes. Sometimes mosquito control personnel can kill mosquitoes by recruiting other organisms, such as fish and even other mosquitoes, to kill irritating and dangerous mosquitoes. Finally, when data supports their use, strategically using larvicides and adulticides can kill mosquitoes and help reduce pathogen transmission.
5. Monitoring for Insecticide Efficacy and Resistance
Not all insecticides kill all mosquitoes equally. Ideally, before using a larvicide or adulticide, mosquito control personnel can perform experiments in the laboratory and field to verify that the insecticide will kill the targeted mosquito and continue to kill the mosquito after implementation. By monitoring insecticide efficacy and resistance, professionals remove potentially dangerous and irritating mosquitoes while minimizing the impact to non-target organisms and the environment.
In the field, integrated mosquito management programs are complex and intricate, requiring a trained and diversified workforce, partnerships between multiple government organizations, and highly specialized tools. Several resources exist that can help people interested in learning more about integrated mosquito management, and AMCA’s manual was updated in 2021 to include information on managing Culex mosquitoes and reducing transmission of pathogens such as West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis virus. Leaders in mosquito control created this manual to provide best management practices and serve as a free resource to anyone on the topic.
Mosquitoes have impacted humanity for millennia and will continue to do so. In response, mosquito control professionals combat mosquitoes using science-based mosquito control known as integrated mosquito management. By making data-driven decisions and partnering with members of their communities, mosquito control personnel will continue to keep people healthy and safe.
American Mosquito Control Association
Jennifer R. Gordon, Ph.D., is founder and principal consultant at Bug Lessons Consulting, LLC, and an alumna of the ESA Science Policy Fellows program. Gordon served as managing editor and contributor for the 2021 update to AMCA’s Best Practices for Integrated Mosquito Management manual. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.