A simple way to reduce mosquito-borne diseases

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, another source of deadly and increasingly frequent disease outbreaks goes largely unnoticed by much of the world. Stanford researchers working in rural Kenya have identified the most productive breeding habitats for certain mosquitoes – spreaders of untreatable viruses that sicken millions every year – and revealed related community perspectives that could inform a solution. Their findings, published recently in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, point to more effective and efficient health interventions spearheaded by women and children.

Francis Mutuku, a researcher at the Technical University of Mombasa who collaborates with Stanford’s Desiree Labeaud, examines purposeless containers for mosquito breeding in rural Kenya. (Image credit: Desiree Labeaud)

More than half of the mosquitoes the researchers found were in tires, buckets and small containers with no immediate purpose, and nearly 40 percent of the mosquitoes they found were in buckets used for laundry. Although tires accounted for less than 1 percent of all containers, they contained nearly a third of the mosquitoes the researchers found.

The findings suggest that reducing the number of unused containers lying around could be an efficient and effective means of mosquito control. Rather than try to cover or reduce the number of all water-holding containers or all containers of a certain type – a complex and difficult approach for community members to sustain – national and local health interventions should target the most likely mosquito-breeding habitats, such as laundry buckets and containers without a purpose, such as tires and trash, according to the researchers.

Key to the effort is education and empowerment, as well as community events such as trash clean-ups to manage the accumulation of purposeless containers, according to the researchers who emphasize that women and children are the most likely agents of change. Women, who are most likely to collect and store water for households, can use simple nets, such as torn bednets, to cover laundry buckets. Children, who are generally more willing to engage with new ideas and take up new behaviors, can collect unused containers or turn unused tires into toys so they won’t collect water for mosquito breeding.

“It sounds simple, but targeting specific containers by purpose can have a huge impact,” said study lead author Jenna Forsyth, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “It’s low cost, requires relatively little behavior change and can be scaled up easily.”

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.