Barcelona launches a new tiger mosquito control campaign, including surveillance of new risk areas

The Barcelona Public Health Agency will be carrying out surveillance and control activities, with assistance from the public, until November. An educational programme introduced last year is due to start up again in schools in the city in the coming academic year.

Técnicos de la ASPB haciendo tratamiento en Barcelona. Foto: ASPB

Photo: ASPB


The Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) is launching its annual mosquito surveillance and control programme, which is set to run until November and focuses in particular on the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). The programme’s main activities include dealing with incidents affecting the city’s inhabitants, monitoring risk areas, and reporting on and monitoring cases of exotic arboviruses, such as the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.

The programme covers 60 risk areas in Barcelona, including Parc Güell and Parc de la Creueta del Coll in the Gràcia district. It calls for preventative measures to be taken on all private property, especially where there are yards, gardens, vegetable plots, balconies with plants, etc.

The programme complements year-round monitoring undertaken in Barcelona for the purposes of detecting the possible arrival of new, invasive species of mosquitoes, such as the yellow fever mosquito, and studying how climate change might be affecting mosquitoes’ seasonal presence in the city. This involves using traps to capture and count mosquitoes, and the prospect of a new digital system for managing the information collected is on the horizon.

Over a decade of monitoring

The ASPB has run its yearly programme for the surveillance and control of tiger mosquitoes in public places since 2004. The agency handles around 130 incidents related to tiger mosquitoes each year, taking action to control the species in the city on close to 1,100 occasions. Its cooperation with Barcelona’s water company (Barcelona Cicle de l’Aigua, SA) is vital, as it allows for the problem to be managed from below ground, and for inspections and maintenance to be performed on drains and other elements tiger mosquitoes could infest.

La ciudadanía ayuda a localizar lugares de cría. Foto: Mosquito Alert CC-BY

Photo: Mosquito Alert CC-BY


The ASPB combines its own information on tiger mosquitoes with that which the Mosquito Alert citizen science project provides. The Mosquito Alert platform includes an app via which members of the public can report sightings of tiger mosquitoes or their breeding sites. Such reports are validated by experts and recorded on a real-time map. Mosquito Alert’s input has been helping guide the ASPB’s control activities in Barcelona for more than three years. In 2017, for example, 150 sightings in the city were reported via the app, and the ASPB acted on 40% of them as part of its surveillance and control programme. Mosquito Alert has thus helped reduce tiger mosquito numbers, improve citizens’ quality of life, and minimize the risk of diseases being transmitted. Coordinated by CREAF, the Blanes Centre for Advanced Studies (CEAB-CSIC) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Mosquito Alert is funded by Girona Provincial Council’s public health body (Dipsalut) and supported by the “La Caixa” Foundation.

Tomàs Montalvo, manager of the ASPB’s tiger mosquito control programme, considers Mosquito Alert an extremely useful tool, especially in terms of detecting breeding sites in public roads. As he explains, the cooperation of the public is particularly important. “It’s crucial that we control the insect, and citizens have a major role to play in that regard, as the mosquito often breeds in their homes”, he says.

Ready for cases of the Zika, chikungunya and dengue fevers

According to experts, vector-borne diseases represent 30% of all emerging pathologies around the world. The tiger mosquito’s presence throughout the Mediterranean region makes active surveillance and coordination among all the relevant actors essential. Yellow fever mosquitoes have been found in some parts of Madeira and were occasionally spotted in the Canary Islands in late 2017. This species of mosquito frequently transmits not only yellow fever, as its name suggests, but also viruses such as those that cause the Zika and dengue fevers.

In the period of 2017 in which a specific protocol for dealing with such diseases and their transmission by mosquitoes was in place, 24 cases of Zika fever, nine of chikungunya fever and 62 of dengue were detected in Catalonia, with 13, two and 15 respectively corresponding to Barcelona. With the city thus accounting for approximately 30% of the total number of cases identified, the current protocol for the surveillance and control of mosquitoes that transmit arboviruses is vital to reducing the risk of diseases spreading there.

A species that must be controlled

An exotic, invasive species whose bite can be painful, the tiger mosquito is capable of transmitting diseases if the circumstances are right. It lives in urban areas, flies low, and bites in the daytime. It is black with white markings, and has a white line on the top of its head and its back.

Objetos que acumulan agua de forma fácil en la ciudad. Foto: ASPB

Objects that accumulate water easily. Photo: ASPB


Preventing reproduction is the most efficient form of tiger mosquito control, and that can be achieved by eliminating breeding sites. Tiger mosquitoes lay eggs in small receptacles containing water. While drains are the most productive breeding sites in public places, the majority of breeding sites are found on private property. The public’s collaboration is thus indispensable, and the easiest way for citizens to help keep mosquito numbers down is to ensure there is no standing water in receptacles such as plant pots, buckets, bottles and watering cans in their homes.

A specific programme for schools

A range of children’s educational activities on tiger mosquitoes were introduced in Barcelona last year. Workshops designed to increase awareness of the importance of preventing the mosquitoes’ proliferation have been run, offering adapted, comprehensible information and looking to get teachers and families involved. Mosquito Alert is part of this initiative, which includes an element of citizen science, in that participants can contribute to tiger mosquito monitoring and control activities in Barcelona. In 2018, around 350 pupils from five of the city’s secondary schools have taken part in the programme, which includes various classroom sessions and a field trip.

Programa educativo en las escuelas con la visita de Tomás Montalvo. Foto: ASPB

Educational program at schools with Tomás Montalvo. Photo: ASPB

Coordination between epidemiologists, public health professionals, entomologists and microbiologists: key for minimizing the risk of Zika transmission in Barcelona

  • The Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) has published a sociodemographic, epidemiological, clinical study which also recounts mosquito control efforts carried out following detections of Zika in the city since 2016.
  • To date, no cases of Zika transmission have been documented in Barcelona, but this does not mean that the risk does not exist. With this in mind, the ASPB has made improvements to the response protocol to further reduce any risk of transmission.
Mosquit tigre. Foto: Pixabay CC0 PD

Tiger mosquito. Photo: Pixabay CCO PD


Since the first detection of Zika in Spain in December 2015, the Barcelona Public Health Agency has included vigilance for this virus in its Tiger Mosquito Control and Monitoring Program, and carries out comprehensive studies of each detected case. As explained in the study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, monitoring for the disease and the insect that transmits it are essential for preventing the local transmission of arboviruses – the group of viruses transmitted by arthropods – helping to avoid dire impacts on public health. This is made possible by good coordination among epidemiologists, clinicians, entomologists and microbiologists.

In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika as an emerging disease threatening public health worldwide as a result of its rapid expansion and associated illnesses which include Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly in newborn babies. In fact, Spain is one of the European countries with the highest risk of local transmission of Zika; in a city like Barcelona, ​​where the tiger mosquito is established and there are large fluxes of human migration, tourism and global trade, the risk continues to increase.

More travelers from Zika-affected countries

Since 2000, the number of people of Latin American origin residing in Spain has increased considerably. Countries including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia are those most visited by travelers originating in Barcelona, whatever the motives for the visit (to visit family, work, for tourism), and these are precisely the places where the Zika virus is endemic. With this significant movement of humans, it is only more likely that the disease will be imported.

In Spain, all cases of Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue infections are reported to the public health authorities and to the main epidemiology units. In 2016, there were 118 cases of Zika in Barcelona, ​​all of which were due to infections which occurred outside of Spain. Zika cases are classified as probable, confirmed, imported or local depending on the patient’s symptoms in addition to other clinical and socio-demographic data (age, sex, country of origin, etc.).

Esquema dels passos protocolaris que es segueixen quan es detecten casos importats de Zika. Font: ASPB

Scheme of the protocolary steps followed when imported Zika cases are detected. Source: ASPB


The most effective measure to avoid local transmission of Zika is to control the vector

Zika is a virus that is transmitted between infected and healthy people through the bite of the yellow fever mosquito – currently not present in Spain – or the tiger mosquito. The Mediterranean is vulnerable to local transmission since the tiger mosquito is present or established in many areas. It is therefore essential to set up surveillance and prevention protocols to avoid local transmission, using individual and community prevention measures to prevent mosquito breeding and biting. In fact, the published study shows that the periods of year with the most mosquitos – April, August and September – coincide with number of imported Zika cases and therefore a greater risk of local transmission.

In the case of an infection, the city’s epidemiology service instructs the patient on the use of preventive measures to reduce additional infections. The goal is to minimize the risk of Zika transmission through mosquito bites in the area where the infected person lives. At the same time, inspections are carried out to detect if there are mosquitoes or mosquito breeding sites either in the infected person’s home or in the surrounding neighborhood. In most cases, insecticidal treatments are applied in areas with standing water in order to kill any larvae.

Mapa de la ciudad de Barcelona con la localización de los diferentes casos de arboviosis y los resultados de las inspecciones entomológicas. "Risk zonas" (azul): inspecciones mensuales. "Citizen incidencia" (verde): avisos hechos por la ciudadanía que se han hecho durante el estudio de 2016.

Map of the city of Barcelona, with the location of different cases of arbovirosis and entomology inspeccions. “Risk zones” (blue): monthly inspections. “Citizen incidences” (green): reports made by citizen during 2016.


In relation to such preventive measures, new technologies have sweep areas for tiger mosquito presence. Specifically, citizen participation with the Mosquito Alert app has led to the detection of breeding sites close to the homes of infected persons, and this technology has facilitated vector surveillance and control in the city. During 2016, the Barcelona Public Health Agency made entomological inspections at 19 homes of people infected by Zika, 34 public spaces, and carried out 134 follow-up and control tasks associated with cases of imported Zika.

In short, the Barcelona Arbovirus Surveillance Program is an example of how reducing the risk transmission arboviruses such as Zika should be tackled in a multidisciplinary manner. The study was carried out by the principal Spanish public health entities as well the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, ​​CIBER Epidemiology and Public Health, Lokímica Laboratories, Doñana Biological Station, The Microbiology Department of Vall de Hebron Hospital, Hospital Clínico of Barcelona, ​​ISGlobal, and the Mosquito Alert community as part of the Barcelona Zika Working Group.

Renferenced article:

Millet, J. P., Montalvo, T., Bueno, R., Romero-Tamarit, A., Prats-Uribe, A., Fernandez, L., … & Zika Working Group in Barcelona (2017). Imported Zika Virus in a European city: how to prevent local transmission?. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8, 1319.

Storify and kit of the mosquito macrophotography and citizen science workshop at CosmoCaixa Barcelona

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Mosquito Alert puts itself on display for international experts in citizen science

The third meeting of ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) brought together a hundred attendees and a large variety of citizen science projects from around the world. and Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) participated in the Citizen Science Safari to show their work to the attendees.

Over three days from Wednesday October 28th through Friday October 30th, around 100 people from Europe, Australia, the United States, and Latin America joined in the activities of the Third General Meeting of the European Association for Citizen Science (ECSA), which took place in Barcelona. “This has been an opportunity to learn about different projects from all around the world and exchange experiences with representatives of the European Union,” said Frederic Bartemus, director of

The members of the team are confident that this international encounter will help to strengthen citizen science.

“Citizen science makes it possible to get people involved in a scientific project by making them observers,” explains Aitana Oltra, project coordinator. According to John Palmer, developer and data analyst, “this is a good way to get a large sampling of scientific data, and this is very useful for studying this insect.”

The safari, the star event

Wednesday afternoon the participants divided into groups and headed towards Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella to get involved in projects first hand. team members and technicians from the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) carried out a demonstration of their work by simulating a citizen alert of tiger mosquito and breeding site using the Mosquito Alert app.

The participants followed instructions in order to send a report using Tigatrapp and later they observed the tools and methodology used by the technicians in order to detect the larvae and apply treatments. “The reports that we get from the application help us detect the tiger mosquito breeding risk areas in Barcelona. The Parc de la Cituadella, for example, is one of those areas”, explained Lídia Fernández, ASPB technician.

Citizen science on the table

The event also featured debates about the main challenges facing citizen science, thematic talks, project presentations, and workshops. According to Josep Perelló, coordinator of the Citizen Science Office of Barcelona Laboratori (BCNLab), who participated in the organization of the meeting, “we want institutions and universities to understand that citizen science is important for society since it enables people to contribute to research in an active and real manner.”

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