Aedes aegypti - Factsheet for experts

factsheet
Aedes aegypti male. © ECDC/Francis Schaffner

Species name/classification: Aedes (Stegomyia) aegypti
Common name: Yellow fever mosquito
Synonyms and other name in use: Stegomyia aegypti

Aedes aegypti is a known vector of several viruses including yellow fever virus, dengue virus chikungunya virus and Zika virus. In Europe, imported cases are reported every year. 

Hazards associated with mosquito species

Current issues 

Invasive species

Aedes aegypti was previously established in southern Europe from the late 18th to the mid-20th century. Its disappearance from the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Macaronesian biogeographical region (Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores) is not well understood [1,2]. It has since colonised Madeira [3], reappeared in parts of southern Russia and Georgia (Krasnodar Krai and Abkhazia) [4], and has been reported introduced in the Netherlands [5]. More recently, VectorNet field studies have shown the species to be widespread over extended areas of Georgia including the capital city of Tbilisi, and its spread into north-eastern Turkey [6]. It is nowadays one of the most widespread mosquito species globally. There are no climatic and environmental reasons why Ae. aegypti, if introduced, could not survive across southern Europe [7]. If this were to happen, it may increase the risk of transmission of chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika viruses [1,6,8]. Although its global establishment is currently restricted due to its intolerance to temperate winters [9], over the past 25 years there has been an increase in its distribution worldwide [10].

Ecological plasticity

The success of Ae. aegypti has largely been due to globalisation. It thrives in densely populated areas which lack reliable water supplies, waste management and sanitation [11]. Historically, Ae. aegypti has moved from continent to continent via ships, and this method of dispersal is thought to present the highest risk of introducing this mosquito into continental Europe from Madeira (via ferries). It is suggested that Ae. aegypti evolved its domestic behaviour in West Africa, and its widespread colonisation and distribution in the tropics led to highly efficient inter-human transmission of viruses such as dengue [12]. This domestic behaviour can provide protection from environmental conditions (as it rests indoors) and numerous habitats suitable as oviposition sites, but can also result in increased sensitivity to control measures used to eliminate the species [10].

Biting and disease risk 

Aedes aegypti is a known vector of several viruses including yellow fever virus, dengue virus chikungunya virus and Zika virus. In Europe, imported cases are reported every year [13,14]. Therefore the establishment of this mosquito in Europe raises concerns about autochthonous arbovirus transmission [2,3,15], particularly in southern Europe where climatic conditions are more suitable for the re-establishment of this species. In 2012, a large outbreak of dengue fever occurred in the Portuguese Autonomous Region of Madeira associated with Ae. aegypti [16]. The epidemic started in October 2012 and by early January 2013 more than 2 200 cases of dengue fever had been reported, with an additional 78 cases reported among European travellers returning from the island [17].

Geographical distribution

Historically Ae. aegypti has been reported to be established in all Mediterranean countries (Europe, Middle East, North Africa) as well as in Caucasus (southern Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan), continental Portugal, and both Atlantic archipelagos Canaries and Azores [2,18]. It is currently distributed throughout the tropics including Africa (from where it originates) and a number of subtropical regions such as south-eastern United States, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Indian Islands and Northern Australia [19]. Although historically present in Europe, its current distribution is limited but extending.

The current known distribution of Ae. aegypti in Europe is displayed on the vector maps.

Brief history of spread and European distribution   

Pathways

Aedes aegypti was most likely transported into the Americas and the Mediterranean on sailing ships from Africa [1,12,20]. The northernmost documented occurrences in Europe (i.e. Bordeaux and Saint Nazaire, France; Swansea and Southampton, UK) are clearly resulting from introductions via ships, and there is no evidence that the species did establish at these places [2]. Historically, the species was sporadically reported in Europe from the Portuguese Atlantic coast to the Black Sea [2], displaying a much larger distribution compared to its current one. The same applies also to North America and Australia [10]. This reduction was possibly due to elimination programmes. 

Initial importations and spread in Europe

Aedes aegypti has disappeared from Europe during the first half of 20th century, e.g. the species was reported in Spain up to 1953 and in Portugal up to 1956. Despite a few sporadic records afterwards (northern Italy, 1972; Israel, 1974; Turkey, 1961, 1984, 1992, 1993, 2001), it is only more recently that reports of re-colonisation have come to light [2]. Colonisation was reported from the Island of Madeira as having started in 2004, and there are concerns that it could be transported to western continental Europe via air or sea traffic [3]. Also for eastern Europe there are concerns that the species could be introduced from Russia and Georgia to other countries bordering the Black Sea via sea or road traffic, as this has already been shown to be the case in north-eastern Turkey [6]. From there, it could easily spread via road traffic to other parts of Turkey, including Istanbul, and further on to neighbouring EU states. Further, Ae. aegypti was reported in the Netherlands at tyre yards undoubtedly imported via shipment of tyres originating from Florida, USA [5,21]. The control measures that have immediately been applied have successfully eliminated the species from these foci.  

Possible future expansion 

Unlike Ae. albopictus, the ability for Ae. aegypti to establish in more temperate regions is currently restricted due to its intolerance to temperate winters and in particular the high mortality of eggs when exposed to frost [9,22] but there is no reason why it should not become widely established again in the Mediterranean. Coastal regions of the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Caspian Sea, and areas along large lowland rivers (Ebro, Garonne, Rhone, and Po) were identified as suitable habitats for Ae. aegypti [7]. This could change in the future with global climate change resulting in more northern and southern expansion [12]. Back to Top  

Entomology

Species name/classification: Aedes (Stegomyia) aegypti (Linnaeus, 1762) [23]
Common name: Yellow fever mosquito
Synonyms and other name in use: Stegomyia aegypti (sensu Reinert et al., 2004) [24]

Morphological characters and similar species

Adults of Ae. aegypti are relatively small and show a black and white pattern due to the presence of white/silver scale patches on a black background on the legs and other parts of the body. Some indigenous mosquitoes also show such contrasts (more brownish and yellowish) but in less obvious. However, Ae. aegypti could be mixed up with other invasive (Ae. albopictus, Ae. japonicus) or indigenous species (Ae. cretinus, restricted to Cyprus, Greece, Turkey). The prevailing diagnostic character is the presence of silver scales in a shape of a lyre on a black background on the scutum (dorsal part of the thorax). The domestic form (Ae. aegypti aegypti) is paler than its ancestor (Ae. aegypti formosus) and has white scales on the first abdominal tergite. The latter is confined to Africa south of the Sahara and has been recorded from the forest or bush away from places of human settlement breeding in more natural habitats [25].

Seasonal abundance

On Madeira Island, Ae. aegypti is active throughout the year, with a peak in abundance from August to October [26].

Voltinism (generations per season)

Multivoltine

Host preferences (e.g. birds, mammals, humans)

Aedes aegypti prefer mammalian hosts [27] and will preferentially feed on humans, even in the presence of alternative hosts [28]. They also feed multiple times during one gonotrophic cycle (feeding, egg-producing cycle) [10,12,29] which has implications for disease transmission.

Aquatic/terrestrial habitats

Historically, Ae. aegypti was found in forested areas, using tree holes as habitats [12]. As an adaptation to urban domestic habitats, it is nowadays exploiting a wide range of artificial containers such as vases, water tanks and tyres [10]. It is also found utilising underground aquatic habitats, such as septic tanks [30], and adapting to use both indoor and outdoor aquatic container habitats in the same area. Adaptation to breeding outdoors may allow for increased population numbers and difficulty in implementation of control methods [28]. A study in Brazil found high numbers of eggs in oviposition sites close to human populations [31]. Eggs which are laid on or near the water surface [10] are resistant to desiccation [32].

Biting/resting habits

The domestic form is often not found further than 100m from human habitations [1] although some studies have shown that breeding habitats can also be found away from human dwellings [28]. Aedes aegypti prefer human habitations as they provide resting and host-seeking possibilities [12] and as a result will readily enter buildings [1,10]. Their activity is both diurnal and crepuscular [10,27].

Environmental thresholds/constraints/development criteria

Aedes aegypti, unlike Ae. albopictus, is not able to undergo winter diapause as eggs, and this therefore limits their ability to exploit more northerly temperate regions (although some survival is possible during the summer following an importation). However it may establish in regions of Europe showing a humid subtropical climate (e.g. parts of Mediterranean and Black Sea countries) such as the Sochi region where it has become established again since 2001 [33]. Species competition has also been shown to affect distribution and abundance. A decrease in the distribution of Ae. aegypti has been associated with the invasion of Ae. albopictus, especially in south-eastern USA [10].

Aedes aegypti also has limited dispersal capability as adults [10] with a flight range estimate of only 200m [27]. Rainfall may affect abundance and productivity of breeding sites but this species’ preference for artificial water containers means it does not have to rely on rainfall for larval development sites [10]. Coupled with its preference for feeding and resting indoors, these aspects make this species less susceptible to the effects of climatic factors which could influence its distribution.

Epidemiology and transmission of pathogens

Known vector status

Aedes aegypti is known to transmit dengue virus, yellow fever virus, chikungunya virus, and Zika virus. It is suggested to be a potential vector of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis virus [34] and vector competency studies have shown Ae. aegypti is capable of transmitting West Nile virus. West Nile virus has also been isolated from this mosquito species in the field [27].

Chikungunya

Aedes aegypti is the principle vector of chikungunya virus [35]. Transovarial transmission was demonstrated by Aitken et al. [36] under laboratory conditions and the virus has been detected in wild-caught male Ae. aegypti [37] which may help with the maintenance of the virus in nature [38]. Venereal transmission during mating has also been demonstrated under laboratory conditions, although it is thought to be lower than transovarial transmission [38].

Aedes aegypti has been involved in virtually all chikungunya epidemics from Africa, India and other countries in Southeast Asia [38] [39]. They caused an outbreak of chikungunya virus in Kenya (2004) and the Comoros islands (2005) where in the latter, 63% of the population was affected [40]. A recent entomological investigation following an outbreak of chikungunya virus in Yemen (2010/2011) revealed the presence of chikungunya virus in field collected Ae. aegypti in the outbreak area [41]. More recently, Ae. aegypti was involved in large chikungunya outbreaks in the Pacific and the Caribbean [15,42,43]. As a side result, vulnerability of Europe to the virus has increased [13,15].

More information on the disease can be found on the fact sheet chikungunya

Dengue

Aedes aegypti is the primary vector of dengue [44]. All four dengue serotypes have been isolated from field-collected Ae. aegypti [45]. Vertical transmission of dengue virus types 2, 3 and 4 has been demonstrated [25] and although some suggest this is inefficient [45], others suggest that it plays a significant role in viral maintenance [46].

Aedes aegypti has long been recognised as a vector of dengue, causing major dengue fever epidemics in the Americas and South East Asia. Global incidence of dengue has also increased in the past 25 years [10,47]. Historically, outbreaks have also been reported in Europe, with one of the largest outbreaks on record occurring in Athens and neighbouring areas of Greece in 1927–1928 [48] [2]. In 2012, a large outbreak of dengue fever occurred in the Portuguese Autonomous Region of Madeira [16] where Ae. aegypti is established.

More information on the disease can be found on the fact sheet dengue

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is maintained in sylvatic cycle between monkeys and mosquitoes of Aedes or Haemagogus genera [25,49]. Aedes aegypti is the vector involved in urban yellow fever transmission where only human is the amplifying host. Aedes aegypti has been shown to transmit yellow fever virus to F1 progeny under laboratory conditions [36] and field collection studies have also confirmed this in nature [25].

Yellow fever transmission has been reported from countries across sub-Saharan Africa and in tropical areas across South and Central America, from Panama to the northern part of Argentina [50]. Autochthonous transmission of yellow fever has never been detected in Asia, although Ae. aegypti vector is present in south and south eastern areas of the continent [51].

More information on the disease can be found on the fact sheet yellow fever

Zika virus

Zika virus is maintained in a sylvatic cycle involving non-human primates and a wide variety of sylvatic and peri-domestic Aedes mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti is considered the most important vector for Zika virus transmission to humans. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were found infected in the wild (reviewed in [52]). More recently, the species was found infected during the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil [53]. The mosquito has been shown to transmit the virus under laboratory conditions but differences of vector competence between studies were reported [54-56].

More information on the disease can be found on the fact sheet Zika virus infection

Factors driving/impacting on transmission cycles

The occurrence of mosquito-borne outbreaks is related to the simultaneous occurrence of its vectors, circulating virus and the availability of aquatic habitats. The spread of Ae. aegypti-borne diseases has been aided by the global spread of Ae. aegypti over the past 25 years [10]. Although currently limited in spread due to its intolerance to temperate winters, climate change could result in an increased distribution of Ae. aegypti.

As human population growth occurs in the future, sites in which this mosquito thrives will increase, providing further habitats for establishment. This coupled with the close proximity of humans and the tendency of Ae. aegypti to feed on multiple hosts during one gonotrophic cycle [12] [10] [29], increases the risk of disease transmission in such areas. The movement of viraemic hosts can result in outbreaks from a number of arboviruses in non-endemic areas.

The re-establishment of Ae. aegypti in some areas has resulted in disease transmission. Inadequate control of this invasive species could lead to its re-establishment in Europe which is why surveillance and research on this mosquito is so important. 

Public health (control/interventions) 

Vector surveillance

Methods for surveying Ae. aegypti are addressed in the ‘ECDC Guidelines for the surveillance of invasive mosquitoes in Europe’ [57]. 

ECDC and EFSA fund European-wide monitoring and mapping activities for invasive mosquito species and potential mosquito vectors (VectorNet).  

Species specific control methods

Source reduction and adult control

Aedes aegypti thrives in urban environments which provide it with numerous oviposition sites to lay eggs. Therefore, the distribution of this species is largely driven by human activities (e.g. storage of water outside) so control methods need to be directed at these factors [10]. This is challenging because of the numerous sites in which Ae. aegypti lay eggs and in an urban setting, such sites are hard to access. For example, a study in Mexico used a combination of quadrat and transect sampling methods to identify the most important containers for pupal development within 600 houses. They found an association between Ae. aegypti pupae and large cement washbasins. Source reduction and targeted treatment of such sites could source reduction and the use of insecticides may be more successful in reducing mosquito numbers [58].

Historically, outbreaks of dengue and yellow fever have previously been controlled by Ae. aegypti eradication programmes but these have not always been successful and have resulted in the re-emergence of the diseases associated with this mosquito [59]. In the 20th century, many eradication programmes were targeted at larval development sites in an attempt to eliminate yellow fever transmission and the use of DDT after the Second World War resulted in the eradication of the species from 22 countries in the Americas [1]. This effort was discontinued and Ae. aegypti quickly re-colonised nearly all of the neo-tropics and subtropics [12]. The use of outdoor insecticidal sprays have become less efficient since Ae. aegypti have become less accessible due to their time spent indoors [1]. Eradication programmes set up in the 1950–60s (initiated by Pan American Health Organisation) in the Americas saw the reduction and eradication of Ae. aegypti there, but relaxation of mosquito management after the 1970s resulted in the re-establishment of Ae. aegypti, followed by dengue outbreaks [10].

Some other methods used include the introduction of predators into the larval habitats of Ae. aegypti e.g. copepods, the introduction of irradiated or genetically-modified mosquitoes (sterile male release) and the use of Wolbachia bacteria which can inhibit the replication of dengue virus within Ae. aegypti which could suppress or eliminate dengue transmission [10]. Protective clothing and repellents are also advocated to reduce exposure to Ae. aegypti, along with indoor living spaces sprayed with pyrethrin [49].

Integrated control programme

Implementation of an integrated control strategy against invasive mosquito species should take into account the target species, its ecology and the public health concern, i.e. nuisance or disease transmission. As a general rule, an integrated control strategy requires the coordinated involvement of local authorities, private partners, organised society and communities [60].

Traditional methods such as source reduction, public education and insecticide application are routinely implemented by municipalities to reduce Aedes populations, but with limited success, probably because of a poor participation of communities, and a lack of coordination and synchronised implementation [60]. Innovative approaches such as pyriproxyfen autodissemination and genetic or Wolbachia-based methods have still to be developed to demonstrate their efficacy and sustainability, but could be considered in future integrated programmes.

Mosquito control programmes are suggested to be more effective against Ae. aegypti (as opposed to Ae. albopictus) due to its strong urban preference and strong human feeding preference [9]. Using a combination of control methods as opposed to one strategy is suggested to be most effective, and will reduce the chance of introducing selective pressures, e.g. oviposition site selection [61]. However, using a combined control strategy of spraying insecticides, reducing potential breeding sites and increasing public health awareness in Madeira following the discovery of Ae. aegypti, did not prevent this species from re-establishing [3].

Existing public health awareness and education materials

ECDC also provides information on dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika virus.

The ECDC provides updated vector distribution maps and step-by-step web guidelines for the surveillance of invasive mosquitoes.

The CDC provides advice for travellers on protection against mosquitoes, ticks and other arthropods.

The National travel health network and centre provides information on how to avoid insect bites (including mosquito bites).

The Regional Committee for Europe has endorsed at his 63rd session, September 2013, a ‘Regional framework for surveillance and control of invasive mosquito vectors and re-emerging vector-borne diseases 2014–2020’ [report] [resolution]

Key areas of uncertainty 

 It is clear that if Ae. aegypti re-establishes and spreads to its former regions in Europe it will have a significant impact on public health. The spread of Ae. aegypti needs to be monitored as this species is the primary vector of dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika viruses.
 

References 

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