Zika Virus brings entomologists, health experts together

  • Published
  • By Susan Lawson
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
Entomologists from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Operations Directorate at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, recently convened with civil engineering pest managers and medical group public health flight personnel at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to discuss capabilities and coordination efforts in response to the public health concern of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Both organizations stressed that protection is key during the influx of the Zika virus.

Although the virus began as a mosquito/monkey virus, humans are now the primary host. Mosquito control is a joint effort between the base medical group and engineer squadron, and civil engineer pest management efforts are a key factor in prevention.

Armando Rosales, AFCEC entomologist and former public health officer, coordinated efforts in the Zika virus discussion. He is one of three entomologists at AFCEC who provide expert guidance to the Air Force and Department of Defense.

Education and sanitization are key to eliminating the threat of Zika-infected mosquitos. As temperatures rise, mosquito populations increase.

"Any container that holds water for 5 to 7 days can breed mosquitos," Rosales said. "To avoid mosquito breeding, empty containers of water weekly. The adult mosquitos' sole function is reproduction. Mosquitos grow from an egg to larva to adult in one week or less."

Different mosquito species carry different kinds of pathogens. For example, only Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are associated with Zika, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever virus transmission. Aedes mosquitos fly short distances, usually only a few hundred yards, and are known as container-breeders. They are also not easily eliminated with conventional pesticides due to heat and wind variables.

While many people associate mosquito bites to nighttime, and believe mosquito larvae develop in ditches and other areas of standing water, the Aedes mosquitoes are active during the day, usually during the morning and towards dusk. Additionally, Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs in small containers of water, like tree holes, rock holes and plants that capture water in leaves. However, the Aedes larvae are very capable of growing in discarded tires, toys left in the yard, kiddie pools, flower pot trays and water collected in clogged rain gutters.

The team identified several steps citizens can take to reduce exposure. Personal protection using repellents such as DEET is very effective in reducing mosquito bites and exposure to the Zika virus. Citizens should also check for and empty containers holding water around work and home. The number of mosquito bites can also be reduced through the repair of window screens, closing windows and turning on air conditioning. 

Civil engineer pest managers adjust control strategies according to the mosquito type identified by public health personnel. Mosquito foggers driven through neighborhoods late at night are the most common form of mosquito control. However, with Zika-associated mosquitoes active during the day, pest managers shift control efforts time to daytime hours and work with public health staff to identify and reduce artificial containers of water on base where Aedes mosquitoes might breed. 

Public health contributes to mosquito-borne disease prevention by monitoring patients for disease, as well as by trapping, counting and identifying mosquitoes on the installation. Knowing the number of mosquitoes and identifying the mosquito species helps public health Airmen determine risk to personnel and family members.

Once this critical information is collected, public health staff provides both numbers and species to CE pest management. Pest management then uses the mosquito species data collected to develop a control strategy.

For more information about AFCEC and the Zika Virus, contact the AFCEC Reach Back Center at afcec.rbc@us.af.mil or 850-283-6995.