Comparative Host Feeding Patterns of the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, in Urban and Suburban Northeastern USA and Implications for Disease Transmission

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Aedes albopictus is an invasive species which continues expanding its geographic range and involvement in mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue. Host selection patterns by invasive mosquitoes are critically important because they increase endemic disease transmission and drive outbreaks of exotic pathogens. Traditionally, Ae. albopictus has been characterized as an opportunistic feeder, primarily feeding on mammalian hosts but occasionally acquiring blood from avian sources as well. However, limited information is available on their feeding patterns in temperate regions of their expanded range. Because of the increasing expansion and abundance of Ae. albopictus and the escalating diagnoses of exotic pathogens in travelers returning from endemic areas, we investigated the host feeding patterns of this species in newly invaded areas to further shed light on its role in disease ecology and assess the public health threat of an exotic arbovirus outbreak. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We identified the vertebrate source of 165 blood meals in Ae. albopictus collected between 2008 and 2011 from urban and suburban areas in northeastern USA. We used a network of Biogents Sentinel traps, which enhance Ae. albopictus capture counts, to conduct our collections of blooded mosquitoes. We also analyzed blooded Culex mosquitoes collected alongside Ae. albopictus in order to examine the composition of the community of blood sources. We found no evidence of bias since as expected Culex blood meals were predominantly from birds (n = 149, 93.7%) with only a small proportion feeding on mammals (n = 10, 6.3%). In contrast, Aedes albopictus fed exclusively on mammalian hosts with over 90% of their blood meals derived from humans (n = 96, 58.2%) and domesticated pets (n = 38, 23.0% cats; and n = 24, 14.6% dogs). Aedes albopictus fed from humans significantly more often in suburban than in urban areas (χ(2), p = 0.004) and cat-derived blood meals were greater in urban habitats (χ(2), p = 0.022). Avian-derived blood meals were not detected in any of the Ae. albopictus tested. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The high mammalian affinity of Ae. albopictus suggests that this species will be an efficient vector of mammal- and human-driven zoonoses such as La Crosse, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. The lack of blood meals obtained from birds by Ae. albopictus suggest that this species may have limited exposure to endemic avian zoonoses such as St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus, which already circulate in the USA. However, growing populations of Ae. albopictus in major metropolitan urban and suburban centers, make a large autochthonous outbreak of an arbovirus such as chikungunya or dengue viruses a clear and present danger. Given the difficulties of Ae. albopictus suppression, we recommend that public health practitioners and policy makers install proactive measures for the imminent mitigation of an exotic pathogen outbreak.

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Faraji, A., Egizi, A., Fonseca, D. M., Unlu, I., Crepeau, T., Healy, S. P., & Gaugler, R. (2014). Comparative Host Feeding Patterns of the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, in Urban and Suburban Northeastern USA and Implications for Disease Transmission. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 8(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003037

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