Mosquito Adaptation to the Extreme Habitats of
Urban Construction Sites
André B.B. Wilke ,
*Alberto J. Caban-Martinez,
and John C. Beier
The construction industry employs millions of workers in the USA. However, little
is known about how environmental disturbances caused by the construction in-
dustry impacts vector mosquito ecology and behavior, and whether it is respon-
sible for increasing the abundance of mosquitoes. There is a major scientiﬁc gap
on how to assess the occupational exposure risk of mosquito biting and arbovi-
rus transmission among outdoor worker populations who spend a disproportion-
ate amount of time working outdoors. In our opinion, it is critical to address how
construction workers and the surrounding communities may be geographically
and seasonally exposed to vector mosquitoes. Research should identify modiﬁ-
able worker- and organizational-level factors that improve worksite mosquito-
control practices to give insights into future vector-control strategies in urban
Urbanization and the Construction Industry
In the late 19th century humanity entered a new geological era known as the Anthropocene (see
Glossary), deﬁned by man’sinﬂuence in modulating the environment on a level compared to that
of the natural forces of planet Earth . Human migration from rural areas to urban areas, and the
construction of new dwellings, has been increasing since then and, as a consequence, urbani-
zation processes have been intensiﬁed to accommodate new residents, urbanizing adjacent
peri-urban areas, increasing urban verticalization, and population density [2–4].
Construction sites are an integral part of the urbanization process. They often lead to a
signiﬁcant disturbance in the environment, modifying land usage, increasing human presence,
and generating signiﬁcant amounts of waste, signiﬁcantly affecting local fauna and ﬂora . The
construction industry in the USA alone spent approximately US$1.3 trillion in 2018, with
more than 13 million new residential permits issued in the same period employing approximately
9.4 million workers on average
. However, very little is known to what extent the environmental
disturbances caused by the construction industry impact the biodiversity and abundance of mos-
quito vector species.
Construction Sites Are Complex Environments
Construction sites, especially geographically large ones, are complex and dynamic. Several em-
ployers work on one site simultaneously, with a mix of contractors changing with the phases of
the project [7,8]. Moreover, as the project develops, different building materials are brought to
the worksite or, as the weather changes, the ambient conditions such as ventilation and temper-
ature change too.
In 2016, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued
empirical mosquito control guidelines considering the threat Zika virus poses for construction
Recent studies have shown that the pro-
liferation of vector mosquitoes is partially
attributable to construction sites.
Very little is known about how environ-
mental disturbances caused by con-
struction sites impact vector mosquito
ecology and behavior.
There is a signiﬁcant scientiﬁc gap on
how to assess the risk of mosquito biting
and arbovirus transmission in construc-
In our opinion, it is critical to address how
construction sites may be geographically
and seasonally exposed to vector mos-
quitoes and their effect on the transmis-
sion of arboviruses in the surrounding
communities and in the population as a
Research should also identify modiﬁable
worker- and organizational-level factors
that improve mosquito-control practices
to guide future vector-control strategies
in urban environments.
Department of Public Health Sciences,
Miller School of Medicine, University of
Miami, Miami, FL, USA
Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological
and Socio-technical Systems,
Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA
Bruno Kessler Foundation, Trento, Italy
Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control
firstname.lastname@example.org (A.B.B. Wilke).
Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2019.05.009 1
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Trends in Parasitology
TREPAR 1878 No. of Pages 8
. However, several features of construction sites (e.g., size, duration and phase, number
and type of workers, presence and abundance of vector mosquito species) account for the
effectiveness of vector-control guidelines in construction sites to effectively reduce the risk of
Therefore, effective safety measures and guidelines must account for the complex worker–
mosquito interaction in the highly heterogeneous job site environment, in which several variables
account for the assessment of the multifactorial risk of workers being exposed to vector
Indeed, the spread of mosquito-borne disease in the job-site environment represents a prototyp-
ical complex system, where the behaviors of human hosts and mosquito vectors mutually inter-
play and affect each other. This feedback cycle encompasses nonlinear dynamic aspects,
emergent phenomena, and critical points that describe how each process affects the other
both microscopically and macroscopically, in which a small change in a variable (e.g., mosquito
abundance) can have a disproportionate effect on the risk of infection for workers.
Here, we hypothesize that features associated with the proliferation of vector mosquitoes in con-
struction sites are likely to vary across space, such that high and low levels of vector mosquitoes
are concentrated in speciﬁc geographic areas according to the size of the construction site, the
number of workers present at the job site, the project duration and phase, each with unique bio-
logical, environmental, and physical features and respectively associated risks for the production
of mosquitoes and the transmission of vector-borne diseases.
In perspective, a signiﬁcant gap in the scientiﬁc literature includes worker- and organizational-level
factors across the construction project life. The better understanding of these factors is needed for
the development of more effective targeted evidence-based guidelines, tailor-made for construc-
tion workers, based on scientiﬁc evidence to support and potentially improve these guidelines
aiming for the reduction of construction worker exposure to mosquito vectors of arboviruses.
Construction Sites and the Proliferation of Vector Mosquitoes
Urbanization processes are often responsible for reducing the overall biodiversity of species ,
leading to a decrease in the richness of species and subsequent increase in the abundance of se-
lected species capable of prospering in urban environments in a nonrandom process of biodiver-
sity loss . The mosquito vectors Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus are among the
species that are able to thrive in such urban habitats amongst the human population [11,12].
Ae. aegypti and Cx. quinquefasciatus are adapted to oviposit their eggs in artiﬁcial breeding hab-
itats that are often widely available in construction sites, in which immature mosquitoes can de-
velop without predators and blood feed on the exposed construction workers [13,14].Ae.
aegypti and Cx. quinquefasciatus are responsible for transmitting many arboviruses, such as
dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika viruses [15–19], and West Nile and Eastern Equine
Encephalitis viruses [20,21] respectively.
Research done in Miami-Dade County, Florida, by Wilke et al. found that immature and adult
Ae. aegypti and Cx. quinquefasciatus were breeding in high numbers at construction sites in the
accumulated stagnant water in elevator and stair shafts, Jersey plastic barriers, and on puddles
on the ﬂoor (Figure 1A–C). Findings of this study provided information on how early-phase con-
struction sites are often vulnerable to ambient elements and may collect rain and groundwater
on the widely available artiﬁcial containers spread out throughout the area. These mosquito-
Anthropoce ne: hypotheticalgeological
age in which human activities have an
inﬂuence equivalent to that of the forces
of nature on the environment.
Arbovirus (arthropod-borne virus):
an acronym used to refer to any viruses
that are transmitted by arthropod
Construction site: a delimited area in
which construction workers are working
on the addition of a structure to real
property in the form of residential or
nonresidential buildings, infrastructure or
Mosquito control: public-health
practice targeted to the management of
mosquito populations aiming to reduce
disease transmission and nuisance
caused by their bites.
Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA): an agency of
the United States Department of Labor
that aims to regulate work condition
safety based on enforcement of laws,
training outreach, education, and
Safety guidelines and best
practices: a group of recommended
practices to increase workers’safety
and to prevent injuries, illnesses, and
deaths in the construction work site.
Urbanization: a set of processes by
which towns and cities are formed,
consisting of the conversion of rural
areas into urban areas to accommodate
the growth of the human populationand
human migration from rural areas to
Vector mosquitoes: mosquito species
capable of carrying and transmitting
infectious pathogens such as viruses,
parasites, or bacteria into another living
Trends in Parasitology
2Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx
breeding sites provide Ae. aegypti and Cx. quinquefasciatus with suitable conditions to freely
reproduce and populate construction sites. The construction sites surveyed by Wilke et al. had
a reduced species biodiversity, and even though 13 different mosquito species were collected
in this study, Ae. aegypti and Cx. quinquefasciatus comprised 95% of all the 3351 mosquitoes
collected and were the only species found in their immature form breeding inside construction
sites. Such ﬁndings suggest that construction sites have highly favorable habitats for vector
mosquitoes adapted to urban environments.
However, despite the size and world-wide importance of the construction industry, there is a
lack of information globally on the relationship between construction sites and mosquito
vectors. The role of construction sites in the proliferation of vector mosquitoes has been largely
neglected and ignored and is for the most part unknown. There are only a few studies available
on the subject, and many questions remain unanswered [22–26]. We still do not know the
effect of construction sites on the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases. Moreover, longitudi-
nal studies focusing on seasonal variation in the species composition of mosquito vectors, and
their abundance according to ﬂuctuations in weather conditions, the phase of construction,
and speciﬁc physical features, are also lacking, substantiating the paucity of studies on this
Construction Workers Are Exposed to Mosquito Vectors of Arboviruses
During the Zika virus outbreak in Miami-Dade County in 2016, construction workers from the
Caribbean with asymptomatic infection inadvertently brought the Zika virus to Miami, and
were subsequently bitten by Ae. aegypti mosquitoes breeding in high numbers at a construc-
tion site located in the city of Miami Beach, Florida, triggering a Zika virus outbreak [27,28].
Proactively, the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Division issued a brochure alerting for the risk
Figure 1. The Risk of Mosquito Proliferation at Construction Sites. (A) Elevator shaft ﬂooded with stagnated water in a construction site. From left to right: elevator
shaft; stagnated water and accumulated trash inside elevator shaft; survey of immature mosquitoes breeding in the elevator shaft. (B) Jersey plastic barrier, ﬁlledwith water,
breeding vector mosquitoes. From left to right: Jersey plastic barrier; stagnated water inside Jersey plastic barrier; adult Aedes aegypti inside a Jersey plastic barrier.
(C) Stagnant water on the construction site ﬂoor serving as breeding sites for Ae. aegypti mosquitoes. From left to right: shallow pool of stagnant water; Ae. aegypti
larvae and pupae breeding in this habitat. (D) Accumulated trash in a construction site environment potentially creating breeding sites for vector mosquitoes.
Trends in Parasitology
Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx 3
of the proliferation of mosquitoes in construction sites (see Figure S1 in the supplemental
Vector-borne diseases have considerable implications for construction worker safety due to the
impairment these diseases may cause, comprising: severe joint pain, risks for conception and se-
vere neurological diseases, such as Guillain–Barré syndrome, leading to worker absenteeism,
long-term health consequences, and even death [16,29,30]. The arboviruses can be introduced
into the construction job sites by workers who become infected during travel to other countries in
regions where there is active transmission and then return to their job with asymptomatic infec-
tions (e.g., 80% of active Zika infections are inapparent)  and serve as reservoirs for the
Construction workers are available in large numbers and spend a disproportional amount of the
workday outdoors being exposed to vector mosquitoes present in high numbers at the job site.
Moreover, by neglecting existing safety guidelines and best practices, such as the removal of
accumulated trash and stagnated water, construction companies are making available many po-
tential breeding habitats for mosquito vector species (Figure 1D).
The development of effective safety guidelines to reduce the risk of subjecting construction
workers to the presence of arbovirus mosquito vectors depends directly on reliable data on
how construction site environments are driving the population dynamics of vector mosquitoes,
and the interaction between mosquito and construction workers. It is of paramount importance
to developing and put into action effective safety guidelines and best practices for the construc-
tion workers and construction ﬁrms taking into account how vector mosquitoes are currently ex-
ploring and thriving in habitats created by construction sites [32,33].
Current Conceptual Framework for Construction Workers’Safety and Health
Several theoretical frameworks indicate that worker safety and health is the result of a complex
interplay of factors involving the individual worker and the immediate work environment, as well
as characteristics of the broader contexts in which both the worker and the construction work
site are embedded [34,35]. Future studies should specify the causal pathways through which
the worker- and organizational-level factors are intended to inﬂuence mosquito-control practices,
acknowledging these multifaceted inﬂuences.
By illuminating these pathways, it becomes possible to design mosquito-control interventions
that are meaningful and relevant for this construction worker audience because they attend to rel-
evant work conditions, thereby potentially enhancing intervention efﬁcacy.
We hypothesize that these workplace policies, programs, and practices will impact mosquito-
control practices for several reasons. In addition, psychosocial factors, including supervisor
and coworker support, have been shown to be associated with mosquito-control practices
[36,37]. The physical work environment of the construction site may also provide opportunities
for engaging in positive mosquito-control practices, for example, by the increased availability of
mosquito repellant, surveillance/removal of standing-water sites, and application of larvicides to
water sources .
Thus, in this model, workplace policies and practices are the primary engines which drive how
work is organized. They are the upstream conditions that shape multiple downstream conditions
. In addition, for the individual worker,it would be desirable to build self-efﬁcacy and skills for
engaging in mosquito-control behavioral changes.
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4Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx
The arboviruses, such as Zika and chikungunya viruses, are of high concern because Ae. aegypti
is highly anthropophilic and exhibits increased biting activity during the day when outdoor con-
struction workers are most vulnerable [16,40,41]. It is currently unknown how worker health
and safety at outdoor construction sites may be geographically and seasonally compromised
by their exposure to the bites of mosquito vectors of arboviruses.
Unknown Epidemiological Importance of Construction Sites
Currently, risks to construction site workers are unknown because: (i) there is a lack of scientiﬁc
information on how construction sites create favorable conditions for mosquitoes species; (ii) it
is unknown to what extent mosquitoes are blood feeding on construction workers and oviposing
in breeding sites produced by construction sites; (iii) it is unknown how much construction
workers are seasonally exposed to the bites of blood-feeding mosquitoes or how this risk varies
across sites; (iv) the actual on-site health risks of workers exposed to mosquitoes remain
uncharacterized; and (v) the possible effect of construction sites in shaping the epidemiology of
arbovirus diseases at the population level is even more uncertain. However, as shown by the
2016 Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade County, we cannot exclude the possibility that construction
sites may serve both as an ampliﬁer of the transmission and as a trigger for population-wide
The production of vector mosquitoes in construction sites is likely to vary across space, such that
high and low levels of vector mosquitoes are concentrated in speciﬁc worksite areas according to
the size of the construction site, duration and phase, number and type of workers, each with
unique biological, environmental and physical features. Consequently, health and safety mes-
sages to construction workers provided by mosquito-control agencies, county ofﬁcials, and fed-
eral agencies guiding worker protection are not solidly grounded on scientiﬁc evidence
A Better Understanding of the Risk That Vector Mosquitoes Represent to
Construction Workers Is Needed
Despite the risk that vector mosquitoes pose in the workplace to the construction workforce, little
is known about what species of mosquito are present in construction sites, what features are
driving their incidence and abundance, and the inherent risk thatmosquito vectors of arboviruses
represent to construction workers and the surrounding area. Additionally, there is a need to ac-
count for human behavior and best practices at the job site (worker- and organizational-levels)
in order to evaluate the effectiveness and possible improvements of the current safety standards
and guidelines employed in the construction workplace for the suppression of vector mosquito
Furthermore, by developing data-driven predictive models for the complex worker–mosquito in-
teraction in the construction site environment, it will be possible to understand transmission pat-
terns of arboviruses in the construction site and surrounding communities, provide guidance to
construction-site-speciﬁc mosquito-control strategies, which would otherwise be difﬁcult to
test without modeling, and to assess to what extent construction sites shape the epidemiology
of arboviruses at the population level.
More studies should be directed to address how individual construction workers and communi-
ties may be geographically and seasonally exposed to bites of vector mosquitoes (see Outstand-
ing Questions). It is also essential to identify modiﬁable worker- and organizational-level factors
that improve worksite mosquito-control practices to guide future mosquito-control strategies in
urban environments (Box 1).
What are the physical features in con-
struction sites responsible for driving
mosquito presence and abundance?
What are the essential resources present
in constructions sites being used by
mosquitoes for blood and sugar feed-
ing? Are vector mosquitoes adapting to
thrive in the extreme conditions of con-
What is the impact of construction sites
on the biodiversity of mosquito vector
species? To what extent do const ruction
sites promote biotic homogenization
What human behaviors are associated
with the proliferation of vector mosqui-
toes in construction sites? How much
are construction workers seasonally ex-
posed to vector mosquitoes in construc-
tion sites? What is the risk of arbovirus
transmission on construction sites and
What are the modiﬁable physical features
in construction sites and human behavior
that could reduce the proliferation of vec-
tor mosquitoes? How can we effectively
control vector mosquitoes under differ-
ent conditions and phases in construc-
tion sites? How is the interaction
between mosquito and construction
workers driving the population dynamics
of vector mosquitoes and the transmis-
sion patterns of arboviruses?
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Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx 5
Recent arbovirus outbreaks exposed the vulnerability of many countries to mosquito-borne
pathogens transmitted by vector mosquitoes, including the USA. and many countries in
Europe [18,27,41–43]. Future studies should focus on construction workers at high risk for expo-
sure to mosquito biting and vector-borne disease, and modiﬁable work organization factors likely
to be associated with these mosquito-transmission risks.
Studies should be conducted in collaboration with major construction ﬁrms and construction
equipment vendors (i.e., safety barrier materials), which will support this research through in-
kind contributions of project leadership time and by facilitating these organizational changes
(i.e., mosquito-control practices). This process may be facilitated due their visibility and role in pro-
viding construction services. The major construction ﬁrms are key to set the pace of policy
change for mosquito control among other employers, thereby maximizing the potential impact
There is also a need to identify characteristics of the work organization, mosquito ecology, worker
behavior, and aspects of the job-site environment that can be feasibly modiﬁed through changes
in management and worker practices. Mosquito-control strategies should be based on both
mosquito and human surveillance surveys across various construction phases and types of
construction job sites with a random sample of construction workers and focus groups with
construction ﬁrm leadership, management and entry-level construction workers.
Box 1. Research Framework for the Development and Improvement of Mosquito-Control Strategies in
1. Investigate the complex dynamics of mosquito–worker interaction in the highly heterogeneous environment of the con-
struction site to assess how worker health and safety at construction jobsites may be driven by their exposure to bites
of mosquito vectors.
•There is a dearth in knowledge about the interaction between mosquitoes and construction workers at construction
•It is unknown how construction sites are increasing the production of vector mosquitoes, and how much risk this
scenario represents for the construction workforce and the community.
•A key aspect of developing effective tailor-made guidelines for controlling arbovirus mosquito vectors on construc-
tion sites is the identiﬁcation of speciﬁc species of mosquito present in the construction site workplace.
•It also requires the identiﬁcation of the mechanisms that vector mosquitoes are employing to thrive in construction
sites. What is the potential risk of arbovirus transmission, given the complex scenario of construction environments?
2. Elucidate what species of vector mosquitoes are in contact with construction workers and what features commonly
found in construction sites are driving their population dynamics and geographic distribution, rendering it possible to
employ species-speciﬁc vector-control strategies for maximum efﬁcacy for mosquito population suppression and con-
trol to lower the risks to construction workers and the surrounding community.
•Determine the impact of worksite physical features (i.e., building materials, phases of the building project, workforce
composition, job site sanitation) on mosquito ecology and human biting.
•Determine the inﬂuence that worker behavior and practices (use of repellant, long sleeves, applicationof chlorine tab-
lets to standing water) has on mosquito biting and mosquito population abundance.
3. Develop, calibrate, and validate predictive data-driven models of the complex construction worker–mosquito interac-
tion in the job-site environment to evaluate the risk that vector mosquitoes pose to construction workers and the
•Guide best practices in on-site mosquito-control operations to ensure a negligible risk of arbovirus transmission and,
potentially, a mosquito-free work environment.
•Develop more effective targeted safety measures and guidelines for reducing vector mosquitoes in the workplace
and the risk of arbovirus transmission.
4. Guide and improve safety and mosquito-control guidelines for outdoor workers –based on scientiﬁc evidence for ef-
fective reduction of risk of vector-borne disease transmission and exposure to nuisance-biting mosquitoes.
•Provide effective protection from vector-borne disease transmission in an effort that will reach millions of workers that
are exposed to vector-mosquitoes on a daily basis during their working day.
•Protect the general population from mosquito vectors of arboviruses, given that, during the Zika crisis that struck
Miami-Dade County in 2016, many Zika cases were associated with transmission at the workplace.
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6Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx
The authors declare no competing interests.
This research was supported by the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/) Grant 1U01CK000510-03: Southeastern Regional Center
of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases: The Gateway Program. CDC had no role in the design of the study, the collection,
analysis, and interpretation of data, or in writing the manuscript.
Supplemental information associated with this article can be found online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2019.05.009.
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8Trends in Parasitology, Month 2019, Vol. xx, No. xx