Public health officials are getting creative about tackling the Zika crisis, with campaigns that use reggae music and Elmo to raise awareness about the virus. Now, two billboards have sprung up in Rio de Janeiro that take a more direct route to addressing the problem: They trap and kill the mosquitoes that are the primary driver of the disease.
The mosquito killer billboards, part of a project from a Rio-based marketing agency, lure the insects, leaving them to buzz around for passersby to see until they die, according to Campaign, a site that writes about marketing.
The billboards-cum-death traps rely on some clever science: They emit carbon dioxide and lactic acid to mimic human breath and odor. This attracts Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to fly through a one-way opening that’s just a few feet off the ground — perfect for an insect that’s known for its poor aviation skills and tendency to stay low.
But as of now, don’t expect the billboards to make a major dent in the mosquito population. Aedes mosquitoes, which spread viruses like dengue and chikungunya as well as Zika, are prolific and opportunistic breeders, and the skeeter prisons are only taking out about 100 each day, according to Campaign.
The project’s organizers have posted plans so other cities or people feeling inspired can build their own such billboards, but they cost about $2,800 to put together, Campaign reported. That’s much more expensive than what experts say are more effective and important mosquito control efforts: wiping out potential breeding sites by eliminating pools of standing water.
The two billboards up now are in parts of Rio that have seen Zika transmission, but, overall, the virus has spread much more widely, and caused a larger surge in birth defects, in northern Brazil.
The marketing agency behind the effort, NBS — which stems from the phrase “no bull****” — said it wanted to go beyond just relaying information about Zika to the public. (The company is known to promote social causes, opening an office in one of Rio’s slums to help brands look at residents there as potential consumers who should be respected.)
“This idea reflects a lot of our beliefs in terms of what communication means in the contemporary world — that speech is not enough anymore,” the marketing firm’s Andre Lima told Campaign. “We need to do real things, not just talk about it.”