Some time about 12 years ago, it reached Israel. The Asian Tiger mosquito may have stowed away on a plane, or perhaps it came by boat. But arrive it did and by now, it's firmly established.
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"It's hard to say when exactly it arrived," says Prof. Dan Gerling of the Tel Aviv University Zoology Department. Nobody notices the first arrivals of a bug this small, only seeing the pest after the species has established itself, he points out.
And a pest this is: the Asian Tiger mosquito can carry nasty viruses, including dengue and a similar disease, chikungunya. There is concern that it may carry West Nile fever as well.
Dengue and chikungunya are characterized by rash and flu-like symptoms; both are believed capable of causing chronic suffering. As is the case with viruses, there is no cure, and in this case there are no immunizations either.
Both dengue and chikungunya are both classified as tropical diseases, but both Asian Tiger-related illnesses have been noted in non-tropical North America and Europe. Last month officials in Long Island, New York pleaded for help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in combating the mosquito. "They've gone global," Gerling says.
In other words, the mosquito and the diseases don't need clement weather to thrive.
Cases of dengue have been reported in Israel, but all contracted it overseas, says the Health Ministry, adding that no cases of chikungunya have been reported. But it could be a matter of time, as the ministry itself admits on its website. All it takes is one infected person in country – wherever he contracted the condition - who gets bitten by the Asian Tiger. The mosquito in turn goes off to dine off somebody else and thus a contagion can begin.
At least there's little need to fear that other species of mosquitoes will start carrying dengue, chikungunya and the rest of the viral pack. "The pest they carry, whether virus or malaria parasite, is adapted to a specific species," explains Gerling.
Some people report that bites by the Asian Tiger mosquito swell painfully and impressively. "It's like an allergic reaction to proteins and lubricants in the mosquito's saliva," says Gerling cheerfully. Lubricants? Yes, so the proboscis slides in easily, he explains.
But unlike our hardy Israeli mosquito, this elegant but unpleasant pest can easily be overcome. Swatting is one trick. Another is to make sure there's no standing water around, where the mosquitoes can breed. "The Asian Tiger doesn't fly much, no more than 50 or 100 meters," says Gerling. "Just stop leaving water stagnating around in the garden." That includes at the bottom of flowerpots – if water must be there, change it frequently.
The Asian Tiger doesn't need a whole pool: a couple of spoonfuls is enough for them to land and breed. Based on their reoughly 10-day life cycle from egg to adult, one doesn't need to inspect the garden for standing water every day – once a week will do the trick, says the professor. And because they don't fly far, if you've removed stagnant water from your surroundings, you've probably solved your Asian Tiger mosquito problem. At your house at least.
Meanwhile, any tips on stopping the itching? "Calomine," he says. This correspondent has found toothpaste useful too.