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Microsoft Testing New High-Tech Zika Mosquito Trap in Texas

HOUSTON, Texas – Officials in Harris County (Houston) are partnering with technology-giant Microsoft to test a new trap designed to only capture the type of mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus. The Houston area will be the first community in the U.S. to use this technology.

Harris County officials announced “Project Premonition” on Wednesday in partnership with Microsoft. The new mosquito trap device observes distinctive profiles to determine the species of the insect before capturing it. It uses profiling techniques to monitor characteristics like how the mosquito flaps its wings to determine its species, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“With Harris County’s deep, long-running expertise in mosquito surveillance and mosquito-borne diseases, they’re really an ideal partner,” Microsoft researcher Ethan Jackson told the local newspaper. “They can tell us that this is the right way to use this data for public health purposes.”

The project will also use sophisticated drones to determine areas that host certain mosquitoes in the county.

Ten traps will be deployed across Harris County to track and monitor the Zika-prone mosquitoes. They measure the time of day the particular mosquitoes are out, the temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity. Three of the traps have already been placed in the county. The balance will be deployed over the next few weeks.

Harris County officials said this project is a giant leap forward in technology to track disease-carrying mosquitoes, Microsoft reported in a written statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “It’s really 1,000 times better,” said Mustapha Debboun, the director of Harris County Public Health’s mosquito control division.

“For a scientist this a dream come true,” Debboun told Microsoft.

The devices have technology to determine and capture only the specific types of mosquitoes researchers want to monitor, the statement revealed. “In a county with this size and scope, we don’t have the resources to just cover the county and spray, spray, spray,” said Les Becker, the deputy director and director of operations for Harris County Public Health. “We’ve got to figure out how to do it as efficiently as possible.”

“Project Premonition” was first carried out in Grenada in 2015 after an outbreak of the Chikungunya virus in that country. That virus is also transmitted by mosquitoes to humans.

Microsoft is providing the equipment at no cost to Harris County taxpayers.

The trap uses 64 “smart cells” and can capture that number of mosquitoes during a 14 to 16-hour testing cycle, the Houston Chronicle reported. Some of the data is transmitted wirelessly to a data collection center. Additional data is saved on the device’s internal memory card.

While no mosquitoes have yet to be found carrying the Zika virus, Microsoft is already obtaining valuable data. “The data that we’re seeing from even this first week is interesting. We can already see that the traps can distinguish between certain species of mosquitoes in real time,” Jackson told the Houston news outlet. “If you want to monitor Zika vectors or you want to monitor West Nile vectors, the trap can actually tell them apart and only capture the ones you’re interested in studying.”

He said Harris County was picked as the U.S. test site because of the outstanding reputation of the Harris County Mosquito Control Program. “The reason why our mosquito control program is nationally renown is because we do a lot of things that a lot of other counties don’t do. We do a lot of disease surveillance. We actually map that type of data out. We have inhouse virology labs,” Elizabeth Perez, a spokesperson for the district told the local newspaper reporters.

Douglas Norris, a professor of molecular microbioloty and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Microsoft, “This is not going to solve the Zika issue or the Dengue issue or the chikungunya issue. But hopefully what this project will do is enhance our ability to detect them.”

Breitbart Texas’ Merrill Hope reported on Wednesday that 10 Texas women who are pregnant have been tested positive in preliminary tests for the Zika virus. Thirty-five other cases of Zika were diagnosed in Texas, a May 20 Breitbart Texas article by Lana Shadwick reported.

Douglas Norris, a professor of molecular microbioloty and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Microsoft, “This is not going to solve the Zika issue or the Dengue issue or the chikungunya issue. But hopefully what this project will do is enhance our ability to detect them.”

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas and is a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.

 

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