Aerial Bug Spray Increases Risk of Autism and Learning Problems

A study presented at a pediatric medical conference in 2016 raises a dilemma: spraying pesticides to kill mosquitoes that can spread the dangerous Zika virus will increase the chances of children having autism spectrum disorder and developmental disorders.

The researchers identified a swampy region in central New York where health officials use airplanes to spray pyrethroid pesticides each summer. The pesticides target mosquitoes that carry the encephalitis virus, which can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord. They found that children living in ZIP codes in which aerial pesticide spraying has taken place each summer since 2003 were 25% more likely to have an autism diagnosis or documented developmental delay compared to those in ZIP codes with other methods of pesticide distribution, such as manually spreading granules or using hoses or applicators.  It is unknown whether the link is due to prenatal exposures, young children exposed while they are growing up, or both.

Although this is a different type of mosquito than the type that typically has spread the Zika virus, there is evidence that the Zika virus can be spread by more than one type of mosquito.  In addition, the kind of spray used could potentially be used to prevent Zika, and there isn’t sufficient information available to know if some types of pesticides used in aerial spraying are safer for children than others.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.


“Aerial spraying to combat mosquitoes linked to increased risk of autism in children: New study finds a community’s use of airplanes to spread pesticide each summer may pose a greater risk of autism spectrum disorder and developmental disorders among children born in the area.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 April 2016.