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The mosquito trap

The mosquito trap Chong Wen Tong/UM
25 Jan
Could an innovative ‘smart’ lighting system also help put a stop to the worldwide growth of dengue fever?

Malaysia is one of the top ten most endemic countries in the world for dengue fever, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting an average of 42,568 cases annually between 2004 and 2010. While the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur has generally seen less cases than other regions such as Johor or Perak, and especially the surrounding region of Selangor, the city has nevertheless seen a rise in cases and deaths in recent years – from 35 deaths in 2012, to 215 in 2014. Initial estimates suggest this figure rose even further in 2015.

Kuala Lumpur, therefore, has been a logical place to test out an innovative new smart outdoor lighting system – powered by renewable solar and wind energy – which also has the bonus effect of attracting and trapping the mosquito carriers of dengue fever. Developed by a team from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, the system generates renewable energy to power long-life LED lights. Additionally, it also powers a weak UV light and emits tiny quantities of carbon dioxide to mimic human breath – an irresistible combination for mosquitos. They are drawn in, then become trapped up by a rotating suction fan, which prevents them from flying away.

dengue feverAverage number of dengue and severe dengue cases reported to WHO annually in 1955 to 2007 and the number of cases reported in recent years, 2008 to 2010 (Image: WHO)

dengue mapNational and subnational evidence consensus on complete absence (green) through to complete presence (red) of dengue fever (Image: Brady, OJ et al.)

‘The original idea was to develop a three-in-one wind, solar and rain harvester for high-rise buildings which was then scaled down to a lighting system powered by hybrid wind-solar renewable energy,’ says Dr Chong Wen Tong, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Malaya. ‘With the generated power, additional low-powered features can be added onto the lighting system such as a flood warning system, charging station, mosquito trap, etc. Due to the increased number of dengue cases that spread by mosquitos, the mosquito trap became the main feature of the system, after the lighting.’

The hope is that over time, installing large numbers of these systems will protect people from mosquitoes in densely-populated regions, and begin to turn the tide on the dengue fever virus – and other mosquito-spread diseases – on a global scale. ‘It is our plan to install these lights around the world, especially on island and beach resorts, and the sky gardens of high-rise buildings,’ explains Chong.

3067Smart lighting system (Image: Chong Wen Tong/UM)

The escalation in cases of dengue fever around the world over the past half-century is nothing short of staggering. WHO figures from 1955 to 1959 show an average of 908 reported cases globally per year – a number which by 2010 stood at an incredible 2.2 million. While the under-reporting of cases can certainly explain some of this rise, WHO believes these figures to be severely under-estimated; a 2013 report entitled The Global Distribution and Burden of Dengue by an international assortment of experts estimated an incredible 390 million dengue fever infections every year, 96 million of which manifest to a severe degree. Prior to 1970, only nine countries in the world had experienced severe dengue fever epidemics, while the disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries, especially across the Americas, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific.

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