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Saltmarsh Mosquito Eradication Project

Saltmarsh Mosquito Eradication Project Gets Permanent Base at Parakai

A new base of operations being opened tomorrow in Kaipara officially marks a significant milestone in the biggest programme so far by the Ministry of Health aimed at eradicating an exotic mosquito which can carry a debilitating disease, the Ross River Virus (RRV).

The southern saltmarsh mosquito, which was first discovered in Napier in 1998, is the target of a $30 million project to combat the incursion of the Australian pest into New Zealand. The invasion in the Kaipara region is the largest so far, with a potential habitat of about 2700 hectares having been identified.

The southern saltmarsh mosquito can carry the Ross River Virus, which can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms in anyone who gets it. The symptoms may last for up to a month, but in some cases much longer.

There has never been a case of the disease contracted in New Zealand and the Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga said the Ministry wants to keep it that way. He said the new base provides excellent facilities to give the eradication programme the best chance for success.

"Staff actually started using the insect growth regulator S-methoprene in October last year because we wanted to get started as soon as stocks arrived, after being ordered from overseas. The new base means operations can be more easily maintained at the level needed long-term to eradicate this pest around Kaipara."

The treatment will run for two summers to ensure that it will target at least two breeding seasons. A biological control agent, Bti, is also being used in conjunction with S-methoprene. Treatment with the organic larvacide began about 12 months ago.

Dr Tukuitonga said he was especially pleased that the introduction of the programme had gone so smoothly, after a big effort to consult with local authorities, iwi and community groups.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the stakeholders involved for their input. The support for this programme has been really pleasing, with the community well behind the project, which poses no risk to public health," he said.

"I'm particularly hopeful about the success of this programme given the results from treating other parts of the country where the mosquito has been found."

"For example the southern saltmarsh mosquito has been eradicated in Napier, which is the place where the mosquito was first discovered in New Zealand and where the first treatment took place. The eradication programme operating in other parts of the Hawkes Bay and Tairawhiti is also progressing well."

The opening of the new base at Kaipara provides a top facility for around 20 staff working on the programme. It includes:

A helicopter hangar for aircraft storage and maintenance A permanent helicopter landing pad A screening laboratory for conducting insect identification A maintenance shop for the servicing of vehicles and equipment A storage facility for the holding of bulk product An operations centre for the planning for and control of operational activities An administration centre Staff facilities

NZ Biosecure, whose staff have also been involved in the control and eradication of the saltmarsh mosquito in the East Coast and Hawke's Bay regions, have been contracted to run the southern saltmarsh mosquito programme.

The southern saltmarsh mosquito is a particularly aggressive daytime biting mosquito. Dr Tukuitonga said the Ministry's advice is that people should avoid being bitten by any mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are most active around dawn, late afternoon and just after dusk. Screening open doors and windows, using insect sprays or mosquito coils indoors and wearing long clothing and repellent when outdoors, can reduce the possibility of being bitten.

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