North Texas Daily

Health Science Center continues West Nile research

Health Science Center continues West Nile research

Health Science Center continues West Nile research
June 17
08:36 2014

Steven James/ Staff Writer

Researchers at UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health are renewing their partnership surveillance project with the city of Fort Worth so they can keep studying West Nile virus trends.

This is the second year of the $200,000 partnership project, which is a way for city officials to quickly get data on West Nile virus trends. The project is being led by environmental and occupational health assistant professor Joon-Hak Lee, who submits reports every Friday to city officials so they can decide which courses of action to take.

So far this year, West Nile has not been found in any of the captured mosquitoes. Researchers can normally detect whether an entire pool of mosquitoes has the disease or not within a few days.

The researchers have been capturing mosquitoes by placing traps across the city. After capturing the mosquitoes, the researchers take them back to the labs and test them to see if they are infected with West Nile or not. Tarrant County Public Health has also been helping with testing.

West Nile virus is most commonly carried by birds. When mosquitoes bite and feed on birds, and other animals that carry the disease, they become infected as well. Mosquitoes tend to feed on birds more than they do humans.

Lee, who specializes in disease transmitting bugs, has been studying West Nile virus for many years.

“West Nile virus is always here,” he said.

He also said the surveillance partnership with Fort Worth is different from many other West Nile virus awareness projects in that city officials sometimes go out and educate the public about the virus, as well as letting the public know what types of issues the city is facing with West Nile.

“The goal is protecting large populations,” Lee said. “What we’re doing will not kill West Nile, but what we’re doing is certainly helpful to maintain levels.”

Environmental and occupational health sciences graduate student Hunter Taylor drives around Fort Worth to set up mosquito traps. He and his colleagues later pick up the captured mosquitoes to take back to the labs. They sort out the mosquitoes by species, and then whether or not the mosquitoes actually have West Nile virus.

“We help when there is a case to draw inferences in the relationship between cases and mosquitoes,” Taylor said.

He said he sets up two different types of traps, a gravid trap and a light trap.

The gravid trap is specific for female mosquitoes of the genus, Culex, which are known carriers of many diseases, including West Nile virus. He sets the gravid traps on top of basins of water in barrels with grass and hay, creating a nutrient rich environment for mosquitoes. When mosquitoes fly toward the trap, a current of air blows the mosquitoes into the trap, making them get stuck in a collection bag.

The light trap hangs on trees and attracts mosquitoes with a light. The trap uses pressure to keep mosquitoes from flying out.

“This is a way to show the public that their city is doing something in protecting them,” Taylor said. “That’s what the project is ultimately about, to serve the public.”

Feature Image: Aerial view of UNT’s Health Science Center located at 3500 Camp Bowie Blvd. in Fort Worth. The Building is home to UNT’s biomedical science graduate school, physical thereapy program, college of pharmacy and many other health-related programs. Photo courtesy of UNT Health Science Center website.

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