Tech by VICE

This App Helps Citizens Report Deadly Mosquito Sightings

Mosquito Alert allows Spaniards to report sightings of the Tiger mosquito, helping local authorities stamp out their spread.

by Emiko Jozuka
Jun 15 2016, 9:00am

An Asian Tiger mosquito feasting on human blood. Image: Frankieleon/Flickr

Citizens normally use their phones to report mosquito outbreaks to pest control authorities, but now there's a more efficient way of keeping mosquito busters informed.

For the past two years, Spanish citizens have been using an app dubbed 'Mosquito Alert' to report sightings and breeding grounds of Aedes albopictus, or Tiger mosquito, a species from Southeast Asia that made its way to Europe roughly a decade ago. The aim is to help scientists and pest controllers map the spread of the insect in cities across Spain, and stop it from breeding further.

The app has just been translated into Cantonese, a Mandarin version is in the works, and it will soon be released in Hong Kong, where both the Tiger mosquito and Aedes aegypti mosquito—known as the Zika mosquito—are prevalent. The Tiger mosquito is also known for carrying viruses such as Zika, Dengue, and Yellow Fever. The ultimate goal is to use the app to help stop the spread of the deadly mosquito borne disease.

"We generated a pilot project in 2013, in a small area in Catalonia, with schools and parents to test the app," Frederic Bartumeus, the director of Mosquito Alert app, told me over the phone. They released it to the general public in 2014.

Bartumeus is a theoretical biologist who initially started out by making computer models of the Tiger mosquito's distribution in Spain. The data was based on the findings of a network of scientists and technicians who went every 15 days to certain locations across Spain to set traps for the Tiger mosquito, and to report sightings. When the economic crisis hit Spain in 2009, he and his team determined they'd need a more cost-effective way of charting the mosquito's spread; so they came up with Mosquito Alert.

Image: Mosquito Alert

Users can either report a specific sighting of a Tiger mosquito or report the discovery of a new breeding ground through the app. The app initially tests whether the user can correctly identify a Tiger mosquito, which is characterised by a white stripe along its thorax or back. Users can also send in photographs, which are validated by a group of entomologists to ensure the data is accurate. The app has been downloaded 200,000 times.

At present, the team are working with major cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid among others, as well as with local governments and public and private pest control agencies—all gathered under the umbrella of the Mosquito Alert Community.

Controlling the Tiger mosquito, however, isn't easy as the insect is found all across cities where it breeds in everything from small flower pots to fountains in gardens.

"Usually mosquitos that carry diseases are concentrated in wetlands and natural areas where it's easier to implement biological control and chemical treatments," said Bartumeus. "The management of the Tiger mosquito is complicated because it's not concentrated in one particular area."

The Mosquito Alert team are currently working on papers that will show how the data provided by citizens is impacting science research and mosquito control. They intend to scale the app, starting with Hong Kong, then hopefully Brazil in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's about getting more data, and more quality data," said Bartumeus. "We want the citizens to be engaged. The idea is to get the citizens and agencies communicating with one another."