Argentina to fight Zika with sterile mosquitoes

After its success in controlling the devastating fruit fly, Argentina is gearing up to fight a new enemy: mosquitoes that transmit Zika, in addition to dengue and chikungunya. Again they are planning to use the sterile insect technique (SIT), an insect birth control method that uses irradiation to sterilize insects to suppress pest populations.

According to Merco Press, Argentina has a long history of applying area-wide SIT successfully. Ever since the Mediterranean fruit fly appeared in the country in the 1900s, fruit trade with countries free of the pest was restricted. This resulted in multimillion dollar losses due to quarantine restrictions and costs associated with post-harvest treatments required for fruit exports.

Thanks to an eradication program that included SIT, Patagonia was declared free of the fruit fly in 2005. This has saved Patagonia’s fruit industry millions of dollars. The industry, mainly focused on growing pears and apples, generates US$ 700 million a year.

SIT has also helped the western region of Mendoza, famous for its peaches and plums, keep the fly population at very low levels since 2009.

“Ideally, we would be creating two large belts of Mediterranean fruit fly-free areas,” said Gustavo Taret, engineer at the Institute of Health and Agricultural Quality in Mendoza. “One starting in the north and the other in the south. The idea is to control the fly population in all affected regions, gradually, until both belts meet in the middle.”

After these successes, Argentina is looking into the possibility of applying SIT to Zika-transmitting mosquitoes, a possibility that is still at the early research stage.

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