Vector Control

Insects and other pests can do more than nibble on our plants or invade our homes. Some carry diseases that will harm plants or people, and they are known as vectors. A vector is an organism that can introduce a disease-causing agent like bacteria or a virus to another plant or animal. While you may not be able to prevent these vectors from passing on their disease, you can control the outbreak with different steps. First, though, it’s important to know what vectors to keep an eye out for, and what they might be carrying with them.

Vector Pest Control: What Insects Are Problems?

Insect vectors of plant diseases are numerous, and can carry a very wide array of different plant diseases. Most insect vectors are insects belonging to the homoptera or hemiptera family. They have piercing, sucking mouthparts that extract juices from the plants, while injecting their own saliva, which is how plants get infected.  Aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, planthoppers, whiteflies, some beetles, and other insects are common disease vectors. Often, a virus will be transmitted, but there are many and what is more important than identifying the virus is identifying what might cause it, and how to reduce those populations. Here’s a small sampling of what these vectors might be spreading:

  • Aphids: mosaic viruses of various plants, like cucumber, turnip, watermelon, etc. that can affect many different vegetables, as well as potato and carrot virus.
  • Leaf hoppers: geminivirus, bacterial leaf scorch, curly top virus, etc.
  • Whiteflies: Geminivirus, squash silverleaf disorder
  • Thrips: Tospo virus

Vector Control Of Plant Diseases

There is no way of knowing if the aphids or leafhoppers you see on your prized plants are infected with a virus or not, until you see signs of it on your plants. Plant diseases can be passed from vector to plant in a matter of seconds, so your best bet to protect your vegetables, ornamentals, and trees is to control the pest populations first, before any sign of disease. Here are some steps to follow when dealing with insect vectors:

  • Prevention: control insect populations. There are many ways to do this, but it will vary depending on what type of insect you are dealing with. For aphids, the most common insect vector, this will mean physical control, like spraying plants with a hose to knock down aphids, chemical control, like botanical soaps and oils to kill aphids and protect plants, and encouraging natural predators, like ladybugs, to keep populations low.
  • Controlling disease: If you notice affected plants in your crops or garden, it is best to remove the plants, so the vectors won’t continue to feed on the infected plants and spread the disease. There are two types of transmission for vectors: persistent transmission, which means the vector only needs to feed once on an infected plant and carries the disease with them for the rest of their lives, or non-persistent, which means the vector must keep feeding on diseased plants in order to pass on the disease. There is nothing to cure the virus in the plant once the plant contracts it, which is why prevention is so important.

Other Pest Vectors: Vectors of Human Diseases

Plants aren’t the only ones affected by vectors. There are insects and animals that can pass on diseases through bites to humans. These diseases are treatable on an individual basis. Below is a brief list of examples of vectors and the diseases they can pass on to humans:

  • Fleas: murine typhus, plague
  • Lice: epidemic relapsing fever, epidemic typhus, trench fever
  • Mosquitoes: malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, West Nile virus
  • Horse/Deer flies: tularemia
  • Rodents (namely, roof rats, Norway rats, house mice): bubonic plague, murine typhus, leptospirosis, rickettsial pox, rat bite fever

Vector Management of Human Diseases

As with plant diseases, you will most likely be unable to determine if the pest is infected with any diseases before someone is infected. Controlling these pests and potential vectors will help to eliminate the risk of any infection.


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