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Ticino sounds the alarm over mosquito menace

The Asian Tiger mosquito entered Ticino from the south. students.fct.unl.pt

Canton Ticino has sounded the alarm after a potentially deadly mosquito was found to have crossed over from Italy into southern Switzerland.

This content was published on September 4, 2003 - 08:50

A working group is now trying to find ways to eradicate the Asian Tiger mosquito, which can carry diseases including rheumatic and dengue fever.

“We found it in the village of Coldrério just across the border from Italy,” Peter Lüthy, head of a canton Ticino mosquito control group, told swissinfo.

The small insect with a nasty bite probably came over in vehicles crossing the border, according to the professor of microbiology at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Hitching a lift

The mosquito does not fly well and biologists believe that the worldwide transport of used tyres is to blame for its spread.

The Tiger mosquito, which originates in south-east Asia, is a real pest, according to Lüthy.

“It bites during the day and the examples from Italy show it to be a nuisance.”

It is also a potential carrier of deadly viral diseases like Japanese encephalitis, rheumatic and dengue fever. While these diseases are not prevalent in Europe, there is a danger that the mosquito could bring them here.

“With immigration, globalisation and the increase of temperature [in Europe] we should try to eradicate it,” Lüthy stressed.

Pest control

Lüthy, along with authorities in canton Ticino, is now looking at ways of halting the spread of the mosquito in Switzerland.

“We will try to wipe it out with larvicides… which can be sprayed into water where it lives,” he said. They are also exploring the possibility of using insecticides.

However, once the insect has established a foothold, it has proved notoriously tricky to eradicate. Females lay up to 150 eggs every few days and they breed in anything that holds water.

“We have to especially watch used tyres and cemeteries where water recipients are found, like vases,” Lüthy explained.

The first European sighting of the pest was in Albania in 1979. In Lüthy’s opinion, it “very likely travelled through exchanges of goods with China”. It was then spotted in Italy in 1993 and recently in Switzerland.

Lüthy said that traps laid by the mosquito control group in the last couple of years had allowed them to detect the movement and presence of the mosquito in the first place.

The monitoring system along the border with Italy included small containers filled with water and a piece of wood, the insect’s preferred breeding habitat.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

In brief

Canton Ticino is looking at ways of eradicating the Asian Tiger mosquito before it spreads across Switzerland.

The mosquito is believed to have entered the country in vehicles crossing over the Italian border.

Not only is the mosquito a pest, but experts say it is a potential carrier of deadly viral diseases like dengue fever.

While these diseases are not prevalent in Europe, there is a danger that the mosquito could bring them here.

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