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For Third Season, ‘Debug Fresno’ Returns - This Time To Larger Experimental Area

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
Paradoxically, the Debug Fresno program aims to reduce the population of a disease-carrying mosquito species by releasing millions of mosquitoes. The catch: they can't reproduce.

Debug Fresno is back for its third official season testing a method to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti, a mosquito species that’s known to transmit nasty diseases like yellow fever and dengue.

Steve Mulligan, district manager with the Fresno County’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District, says this year’s program encompasses more than three times the coverage area it did last year, having grown from roughly 700 to 2500 acres in the Harlan Ranch and Loma Vista neighborhoods of Clovis. “We want to expand these particular areas to kind of determine the effects of migration of mosquitoes from surrounding areas,” he says.

Unlike during the 2018 season, Fresno’s Fancher Creek neighborhood is not included in this year’s program.

Debug Fresno’s objective may seem like a paradox: It aims to reduce the populations of A. aegypti in these neighborhoods by releasing millions of mosquitoes into them. The released mosquitoes are all male, which don’t bite, and they’ve been infected with a bacteria that essentially renders them sterile. When they mate, the eggs the females lay won’t hatch.

Debug Fresno is a collaboration between the Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District, an offshoot of Google parent company Alphabet named Verily, and the Kentucky company MosquitoMate.

While project partners have not publicized their data, they report last year’s program as a success, which they measure by counting the number of biting female A. aegypti caught in traps throughout the year. “We had a 95 percent reduction over the course of the season, so we’re very happy with those results,” says Mulligan. The prior year, partners reported a two-thirds reduction in biting females.

Mulligan says mosquito releases began last week and will continue through November.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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