Contact: Julie Willmot
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TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes today met with other participants in a multi-million-dollar federal grant study to examine the prolific Asian tiger mosquitoes and design a way to combat the insect's spread.

Hughes conducted the meeting at the County's Mosquito Control Lab in Ewing with grant partners Gary Clark and Dan Kline of the United States Department of Agriculture, scientists from Rutgers University and Brandeis University, and Ary Farajollahi, Superintendent of Mercer County Mosquito Control in order to address the status of the project.

"Mosquito control is a job for everyone," Hughes said. "We really need the assistance of County residents to reduce the mosquito population. This can be easily accomplished if residents taking simple measures around their homes like emptying containers that hold water, cleaning up trash or debris that could collect water, and emptying bird baths and small pools of water every 7 to 10 days."

Provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, the $3.8 million grant was delivered in 2007 and is the first of its kind in the United States. It enables Mercer County to work cooperatively with Rutgers University, the federal Agricultural Research Service, Monmouth County Mosquito Control, and researchers from other universities to explore strategies for controlling and eliminating Asian tiger mosquito populations in central New Jersey. The goal of the study is to develop an affordable "integrated pest management strategy" that can be employed in other areas in the United States that suffer from Asian tiger mosquito infestations.

Lab trials are already underway and the optimum locations for trapping the Asian tiger mosquitoes are currently being scouted, according to Farajollahi.

Recent studies have shown the mosquito can pose a potentially significant public health risk, and Mercer County and its partners are hopeful the study will have a widespread impact.

Mercer County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Aaron T. Watson, whose department oversees the Mosquito Control Division, said the unique partnership should help develop new strategies to battle Asian tiger mosquitoes in other regions.

"We are really proud of the collaboration we have built with the federal government, state academia, and agencies of other Counties," Watson said. "The lessons learned from this project are going to benefit not only the residents of Mercer County, but will also have a national and international impact wherever the Asian tiger mosquito is found."

"This is the first area-wide project for mosquitoes that the federal government is funding," said Gary Clark of the USDA. "We are very anxious and optimistic that the benefits of this project in Mercer County will influence how mosquito control is conducted everywhere else in the United States."

Aedes albopictus, known colloquially as the Asian tiger mosquito, first appeared in New Jersey in 1995. Populations of this particular species remained relatively stable until the past few seasons, beginning with a mild winter in early 2006, which allowed many mosquitoes to survive the winter and presented a major public health problem during the summer of 2006.

Asian tiger mosquitoes proliferate when small containers with standing water avail themselves. Unlike most other mosquitoes, Asian tiger mosquitoes prefer to draw blood from humans. These winged pests can carry not only West Nile virus, but also Dengue and Yellow Fever. In addition, Asian tiger mosquitoes can harbor and spread the Chikungunya virus-a pathogen currently epidemic in the Indian subcontinent and Italy which is projected to reach the United States within the next 5 to 10 years.

The Asian tiger mosquito can be found in 36 U.S. states, many countries in South and Central America, several countries in Africa, the Middle East, and patches of Europe. The mosquito first arrived in America in the early 1980s, and has steadily spread, mostly via the larvae deposited in vehicle tires that are shipped around the world, according to Science Magazine.

Italy has been so overwhelmed with Asian tiger mosquito infestation that the government believes the nuisance is now affecting tourism, the magazine reported in its May 16, 2008 issue.