By Steve Hansen Correspondent
May 10, 2017

Because mosquitoes have built-in chemical analysis labs and a local scientist has been working in fuel cell technology, Quay County can now play a role in helping South Pacific islanders combat the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne infections.

Bob Hockaday, a local independent Tucumcari scientist, has invented a device called a BugZing that can be worn like a wristwatch and puts out a scent that mosquitoes find repulsive, but the wearer cannot detect.

While Hockaday’s device is not yet licensed for sale in the U.S., a special permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is likely to allow the BugZing to be used to deal with a mosquito-borne health emergency in American Samoa, a seven-island U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

That permit is still pending, Hockaday said, but in the meantime, he is producing devices to ready them for shipment with the help of his son, Bobby Hockaday, and nephew, Ryan Pottenger, and some Tucumcari residents.

American Samoa is in a quandary, according to Rep. Vesi Fautanu, Jr., a member of American Samoa’s legislature. Fautanu contacted Hockaday about BugZing after hearing about it through a cousin of Hockaday’s.

Fautanu said American Samoa’s ability to use chemical sprays to eradicate mosquitoes is limited by a lack of resources and by regulations that prohibit the sprays in the territory’s many environmentally sensitive areas.

Residents observe “cleanup Fridays” to empty sources of standing water and clean out other places where mosquitoes might breed, he said, but American Samoa continues to have a high number of incidents of dangerous mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus and dengue fever.

The BugZing promises to help ward off these health hazards, he said.

The BugZling works, Hockaday said, despite mosquitoes’ ability to detect carbon-dioxide as humans breathe it out, which is what signals them to hum in for a nourishing poke through the skin.

With Hockaday’s invention, however, the mosquitoes get a whiff of the citronella and Deet or eucalyptus scent on the human’s skin and turn away, Hockaday said.

The mosquitoes’ built-in chemical labs, he said, can detect more than 50 chemicals, and a combination of citronella and Deet or lemon-eucalyptus scent sends them literally looking for new blood.

Hockaday said the devices have been tested on volunteer subjects, some of them family members and many volunteers at New Mexico State University’s Hansen Laboratory, which specializes in studying diseases carried by mosquitoes and their biological relatives.

Dr. Immo Hansen, who heads the laboratory, declares in a video on the BugZing website that BugZing has been found “very effective.”

Hockaday said that combining mosquito-repelling citronella with another repellent chemical has a far greater effect on repelling mosquitos than either chemical alone.

The device requires energy to distribute the stuff mosquitoes hate. The energy comes from a narrow tube made of a flexible plastic that acts as a fuel cell. Hockaday has a patent on the material. Fuel cells use hydrogen and a chemical catalyst to produce electricity that is transferred to electrodes in the tube and then used to power the chemical-spreading mechanism in the BugZing device.

Fuel cells can put out up to 80 times more energy over time than many batteries, Hockaday said, but their use in the U.S. is nearly prohibited on small devices due to the perceived dangers of their hydrogen fuel, which have triggered security concerns in the U.S.

The BugZing is also rechargeable, Hockaday said, unlike other mosquito-repellent products. In the U.S., he said, recharging is accomplished by replacing a cartridge. In developing countries, he said, shopkeepers can inject chemical recharges.

Before the devices can be marketed in the U.S., Hockaday said, they must undergo a rigorous series of tests on humans to satisfy requirements of EPA licensing.

Hockaday is currently working with the Hansen Laboratory to design and conduct those tests, he said.