Sept. 19, 2014, 8:31 a.m.
MONTEREY PARK – A new black-and-white striped Australian mosquito, which can can spread heartworms in dogs and carry several human diseases, has been identified in parts of the San Gabriel Valley.
This is the first time Aedes notoscriptus, known informally as the “Aussie Mozzie,” has been found in North America, reports show.
The first specimens in Los Angeles County were captured in June in Montebello and Monterey Park but were not positively identified by the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District as Australian mosquitoes until this week.
The insect is a relative of the Asian tiger mosquito, which has been known to carry West Nile virus and chikungunya, a viral disease that causes severe muscle pain and can be fatal.
“For now, we don’t see it as posing too much of a risk since all the viruses it spreads to humans in Australia aren’t found here in America,” said Jason Farned, spokesman for San Gabriel Valley’s Vector Control.
The Aussie Mozzie has been known to transmit two human viruses in Australia: Ross River and Barmah Forest, which have influenza-like symptoms but are not fatal.
Without an infected human in the U.S., the zebra-striped mosquito could not spread those diseases here, officials said.
“The bigger problem is the dog heartworm, which only spreads through mosquito bites and is something we do have here,” Farned said. The organization recommends all pets have current vaccinations to prevent infection.
Scientists are investigating how the Aussie Mozzie arrived in Los Angeles County.
Levy Sun, who handles inquiries for the Greater Los Angeles County Mosquito and Vector Control District, said the organization is working with agencies in Australia to determine whether the insect came in through imported materials that arrived at L.A. ports or if it was carried in by a traveler.
Unlike domestic mosquitoes, the Aussie Mozzie’s eggs can go without water for five years and still be viable.
“In most cases, we usually can’t pinpoint the source because of global trade and travel,” Sun said. Because of the long shelf life of the eggs, it will be difficult to tell whether the mosquitoes were brought in recently or years ago.
If the mosquito came into the country with an infected person, the chance for local human-borne diseases is higher, vector officials said. Because of the distance and time it takes to fly from Australia to L.A., however, the chances of a live mosquito surviving the journey is unlikely.
In addition to its exotic stripes, the Australian mosquito has different feeding and breeding habits than local species. Domestic mosquitoes typically bite only during dawn and dusk, but the Aussie Mozzie and Asian tiger mosquito both feed during the day, experts said.
If residents are bitten by a mosquito while the sun is out, then the insect is from out of town and should be reported to local vector control officials.