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USF awarded major grant to help control spread of mosquito-borne diseases

USF is using the latest artificial intelligence to create apps to identify and target the most dangerous species of mosquitoes.

TAMPA, Fla. — They may be annoying, but few people realize mosquitoes are among the deadliest creatures on the planet.

“Sharks, they have their own week on television, but they kill less than a dozen people per year,” said USF’s Ryan Carney.  “Yet mosquitoes, these little flying hyper dermic needles of disease, kill an estimated 3 million people per year.”

That’s why researchers at the University of South Florida are teaming up with NASA and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using the latest artificial intelligence to create apps to identify and target the few most dangerous species of mosquitoes.

“They just take a picture of it and the algorithm will figure out what pixels belong to the wing, the head, to the legs, to the thorax,” Carney said. “It will then run the algorithm specifically on each of those parts of the anatomy and then come up with a species identification.”

App prototypes are already being deployed in Africa to help control outbreaks of malaria. But the team says their partnerships with four of our local health departments in the Tampa Bay area could be just as important.

“Florida is really ground zero for mosquito-borne disease in the United States,” Carney said.

Diseases like West Nile, Zika, even dengue fever can all pose a threat.  

“Last year there was actually a local case here in Hillsborough County, so these are things that are only going to get worse,” Carney said.

The apps will eventually be used by local health departments, researchers and even everyday citizens willing to help monitor for potential threats before they’re allowed to spread.

“It’s just like birdwatching,” Carney said. “It’s kind of like mosquito watching except it has a public health impact.”

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