New Handy Device Protects Against Mosquitoes in Military Test

The device needs no power or heat to operate and doesn’t require applying insect repellent to the skin.

Mosquito-borne diseases, including West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Chikungunya virus, malaria, and dengue, can cause mild to severe illness in a person bitten by an infected mosquito. Because of this concern, preventing mosquito bites is a priority for people who spend time outdoors.

According to the CDC, insect repellents containing DEET, IR3535, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, or Picaridin are long-lasting and effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Other methods for repelling mosquitoes include systems that use electric or battery power to heat and diffuse a liquid repellant into the air.

Both repellant sprays and diffusing systems can have drawbacks. Specifically, sprays can have a strong odor or might not be appropriate for use on bare skin, and diffusing systems require batteries that need replacing or recharging.

Now, a new device developed at the University of Florida for U.S. Military personnel may have solved some of those issues. The controlled-release, passive device funded by the Department of Defense Deployed Warfighter Protection program offers protection against mosquitoes without heat or electricity and doesn’t require application to the skin.

The small, convenient device was designed by PhD candidate Nagarajan Rajagopal and Dr. Christopher Batich of the University of Florida’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. The scientists recently tested the device in a four week semi-field study at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Florida.

The device is tube-shaped, about 2.5 cm long, and holds two smaller tubes containing transfluthrin, an insecticide considered safe for humans and animals. Previous 2020 research in Vietnam found that transfluthrin was effective at repelling two types of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, although it repelled one type more than the other.

To test the device’s effectiveness, the team attached 70 devices to the entrance of a large military tent using fishing line. Another tent with no devices attached served as a control in the experiment.

The researchers then released multiple species of caged mosquitos along the outside of the tents.

The team found that within 24 hours, almost all insects were repelled or killed, and this protection lasted for four weeks.

"Our device eliminates the need for applying topical repellents and for insecticides that are sprayed across an open area, which can contaminate surrounding plants or bodies of water and have a negative impact on beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies," Rajagopal said in a news release.

"This is versatile, portable, easily deployed and doesn’t require electricity or heat to activate the solution," he added.

The developers are filing for a patent on the new device and hope it will eventually become available for civilians. They also want to investigate whether it can effectively protect against other insects, including ticks that can carry Lyme disease.

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