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Woodinville firm tries to tackle Zika with low-tech mosquito traps

U.S. range of the mosquitoes that can spread Zika and other diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. range of the mosquitoes that can spread Zika and other diseases.

It’s a low-tech approach to fighting the Zika virus: a mosquito trap made of a bucket, screens and a glue strip. The black, five-gallon trap uses water and the smell of hay to lure mosquitoes.

The technology comes from a firm in Woodinville, and researchers there say it works.

"When a mosquito is ready to lay her eggs, she's looking for a dark, sheltered area with water in it," entomologist Rebecca Heinig said. Heinig works for SpringStar, the Woodinville firm.

SpringStar says the bucket traps have already cut the spread of other mosquito-borne diseases in half during tests in Puerto Rico, where an outbreak of Zika is currently raging.

The simple trap was developed by dengue fever researchers working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Puerto Rico. SpringStar came up with a way to mass-produce it.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Entomologist Emilie Bess shows off one of Springstar's bucket traps.", "fid": "128759", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201608/FullSizeRender.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo / John Ryan"}]]As the Zika virus rages across Puerto Rico – and now has a foothold in Florida – researchers across the U.S. are trying to engineer solutions to fight the virus. Meanwhile, planes have sprayed pesticides four times in the last week over a neighborhood in Miami. 

Washington is 1 of only 10 states where mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus don't live.

Heinig said, unlike a vaccine, the trap can fight several diseases at once.

"We're going back to the source instead of treating the symptom," Heinig said. "The primary vector for all these diseases is exactly the same mosquito. It's Aedes aegypti."

The company hopes to build two million traps by the end of the year. Company president Mike Banfield said they will retail for $25 and be sold to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for $15.

A recent proposal from the CDC to combat Zika by spraying the insecticide naled (toxic to birds, bees and fish) from planes over Puerto Rico led to protests and one high-ranking Puerto Rican official resigning. The spraying plan was abandoned. (Naled is being used in Florida.)

The new traps use no pesticides. Heinig said traps would avoid the problem of mosquitoes evolving to become resistant to the control technique, as happens over time with pesticides.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene toured the Woodinville plant on Tuesday.

"Zika is urgent today, but I think the technologies that you develop will help in other areas and other outbreaks," DelBene, a Democrat, said.

Democrats and Republicans sparring in Congress have held up $1.9 billion to fight Zika.

"The only winner from not having funding for Zika is the Zika virus," Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, told NPR's Ray Suarezon Saturday.

Frieden estimated that one of five people in Puerto Rico could be infected with Zika by the end of the year.

Year started with KUOW: 2009