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War Surgery and Medicine

Mosquito Control at New Zealand Airfields

Mosquito Control at New Zealand Airfields

New Zealand, along with Fiji and New Caledonia, lies outside the malarial zone, which however extends to Northern Australia. Therefore New Zealand has a duty to guard against introduction of anopheles mosquitoes into the country, possibly by aircraft travelling from malarial zones. It may be that the environment in New Zealand is unsuitable for the anopheles mosquito to get established, but until more is known of the habitat of the anopheles the threat must be treated as a real one. A species of anopheles introduced by fast destroyer or aircraft into Brazil from Dakar, West Africa, about 1930 established itself and caused a widespread epidemic of malaria in 1938 with 20,000 or more deaths.1

During the war in the Pacific tropical airfields used by the RNZAF planes were under strict mosquito control, and there was page 543 but slight chance of the insects boarding aircraft at these places and there were protective measures at Whenuapai airfield, Auckland. A hygiene and sanitation orderly boarded aircraft from places beyond New Zealand and sprayed the interior with a pyrethrum bomb before passengers and crew were disembarked and cargo unloaded. Mosquito-control measures were also enforced at Whenuapai, thus eliminating possible breeding places. Insects, including mosquitoes, were found in many aircraft coming from overseas airfields.

This control was continued at Whenuapai after the war, but on an experimental trip to Japan and back in an RNZAF aircraft in 1946 an entomologist, Sergeant M. Laird, made some interesting observations. Female mosquitoes, not anopheles, fed en route, survived the 13,000 mile return flight from New Zealand to Japan, while males lived for periods of up to seven days without food. Although no free mosquitoes were seen in the aircraft at any stage of the journey, larval and adult stages of anopheles were collected in the immediate vicinity of three airfields—in Australia, Netherlands East Indies, and the Philippines. It was found that caged mosquitoes were most active during take-off and landing, and were flying about each time the door of the aircraft was opened after landing. Thus there was every chance of mosquitoes and other insects making good their escape when the door was opened at Whenuapai to admit the spraying orderly.

A recommendation was made that aircraft from overseas should be sprayed with insecticide just before landing in New Zealand, thus reducing the chances of insects escaping after landing, yet spraying the insects when they were most likely to be in flight, at which time spraying is most effective. With increased air traffic in any future military activities in the Pacific there should be the utmost vigilance to guard against the introduction of anopheles mosquitoes, vectors of malaria, to New Zealand.

1 In 1952 Flt Lt M. Laird, RNZAF, began conducting research to discover why anopheles heavily infests some territories of the South-West Pacific and is unknown in some adjacent areas.