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'Sweaty,’ Mosquito-Luring Billboards Have Popped Up in Brazil

Two advertising agencies have released designs for a mosquito-trap billboard to help fight the Zika epidemic.

A new advertising billboard popping up in Rio de Janeiro is designed to appeal to a very specific audience: Zika-transmitting mosquitoes.

The high-tech billboard, designed by two Brazilian advertising agencies, is lit with fluorescent lights and emits carbon dioxide (meant to simulate mammals exhaling) and a lactic acid-laced mist (meant to simulate sweat) to lure mosquitoes.

The insects crawl into the sign and become trapped, eventually dying. It can attract mosquitoes from as far as 2.5 kilometers away, according to the designers.

Posterscope and NBS, the companies that designed the sign, released all the technical specs online for free, encouraging communities to build their own signs to go with the two prototypes the firms have already installed in Rio de Janeiro.

The companies believe a sign can be built for just under $200 and kill millions of mosquitoes, which may be carrying Zika, or other viral threats like dengue and chikungunya.

Right now, innovators and scientists are all working of different approaches to the Zika epidemic in Latin America, which has led to thousands of babies born with a severe brain deformity called microcephaly. These solutions range from the hunt for a vaccine to more grassroots efforts like this billboard and traps made from recycled car tires.

Official organizations like the World Health Organization are hesitant to herald any single approach without proper investigation and trials, however. In a recent report, the WHO Vector Control Advisory Group acknowledged the idea of using traps, but noted more research is needed.

"Vector trap technology may reduce mosquito populations by attracting and killing egg-laying female mosquitoes and also has potential for improved vector surveillance," the report reads. "The entomological efficacy of these traps has been demonstrated in limited field trials. Though preliminary evidence was reviewed by the committee, evidence for the public health value of vector traps needs to be more fully established and operational considerations addressed."

The group called for expanded studies of lots of different kinds of traps and vector control measures so we can quickly determine which methods are the most effective. But in the meantime, maybe a handful of bug-luring billboards won't hurt.