Zika virus is spreading like a swarm of mosquitoes—since 2007, the World Health Organization reports, 66 countries have experienced transmission of the disease, and the WHO recently declared the microcephaly and other neurological disorders it’s believed to cause a public health emergency. But one group of Brazilian marketing agencies think they can stop its spread with an unlikely tool, the BBC reports: A billboard that secretes human-like “sweat,” then traps and kills mosquitoes.
It’s called The Mosquito Killer Billboard, and its premise is both disgusting and deceptively simple. On the device’s website, which includes free blueprints for those who might want to make one of its own, its inventors explain the premise. The billboard emits a solution containing carbon dioxide and lactic acid that mimics human sweat and breath, attracting mosquitoes from a distance of up to nearly two and a half miles. Fluorescent lights make it even more attractive to mosquitoes and take advantage of the bugs’ need for a fixed point of light to navigate. When mosquitoes make it to the billboard, they’re lured inside, where they dehydrate and die.
So far, two billboards (appropriately showcasing a Zika awareness message) have been installed in Rio de Janeiro. The BBC reports that the collective behind the anti-mosquito ads won’t be selling ad space on the billboards. But at least one expert worries that the innovation could backfire. Chris Jackson, an ecologist and pest control specialist at the University of Southampton, told the BBC that since the billboards are so good at sucking mosquitoes in, they could actually endanger people in proximity to the billboard who could become the target of hungry bugs.
The idea is just one of a spate of creative solutions coming out in the wake of a virus that could infect up to four million people by the end of the year. Earlier this month, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) hosted a Zika Innovation Hackathon that yielded ideas like a mobile app that helps hunt down mosquito larvae and a water buoy that automatically dispenses larvicide.
Over 50 engineers, global health specialists and students participated in a similar event at Johns Hopkins a few days later, and the ideas they came up with are just as brilliant and weird. Potential Zika solutions included mosquito trap surveillance systems, Zika-proof clothing, sporting event banners that also scare off bugs and even “Never Will Bite,” a body and laundry soap that could one day make mosquito prevention part of people’s everyday routine.
While a single billboard or bar of soap is unlikely to stop Zika’s deadly march any time soon, every prevented bite represents one less potential victim of the virus. And with mosquitoes implicated in the spread of other deadly diseases, like dengue and malaria, there’s no time like the present to take full advantage of human ingenuity in the war against mosquito-borne illness.