Since the discovery of Zika virus-infected mosquitoes in Miami Beach two months ago, the city has become ground zero of the disease in the United States. There were dozens of reported cases of infection, and the first confirmations took place back in August.
Because of the news, the local economy suffered dramatically, especially after travel warnings were announced. Since then, efforts have been made to combat Zika, but aerial sprayings have proven to be inefficient in the Miami Beach area that is home to the virus-carrying mosquitoes. After multiple rounds of spraying, the county officials discovered a new pool of Zika-positive mosquitoes on Sept. 23.
This week, however, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, the Miami Beach commissioner, has unveiled a new proposal to get rid of the mosquitoes: attract bats into the city. The idea behind this is to reduce the mosquito population in a natural manner, by using other members of the ecosystem.
"Aerial spraying of Naled has been used by Miami-Dade County to help eradicate the disease-carrying mosquitoes, but the presence of Zika-infected mosquitoes in the City of Miami Beach continues to be reported by County health officials," as noted in the commissioner's ordinance.
The bats will not be affected by the exposure to the virus, according to most of the scientific views. However, it's entirely possible that the measure will fail to be effective, as mosquitoes fly during the day, while bats are usually active during the night, which may prevent the two species from ever entering in contact with one another.
"Bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour and offer an environmentally friendly approach to mosquito control," explained Rosen Gonzalez. The pilot program would involve creating bat houses as a first step in attracting the animals.
Additional concerns were expressed on the use of pesticides during the bats' stay in the area, as spraying pesticides could kill the animals, according to the national organization Bat Conservation International.
There are previously documented attempts to attract bats into certain areas. Back in 1929, a real-estate developer faced a similar situation. However, the bats flew away instead of just moving into the environment he had especially created, which turned the entire plan into a fiasco.
As of Oct. 17, there are 160 non-travel-related cases reported with Zika and 739 travel-related ones, as four new non-travel related cases and another travel-related one were reported. More than 100 of these involved pregnant women.
"Large, concentrated populations of mosquitoes could provide adequate nutrition in the absence of alternative food. However, a moth provides much more nutritional value per capture than a mosquito," noted the American Mosquito Control Association.