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Kate T.: About My Mosquito Surveillance Project

About My Mosquito Surveillance Project

By Kate T.

My major internship tasks were weekly mosquito surveillance and the development of a mosquito visualization template to communicate the risk of (and recommendations for) West Nile Virus to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Health Department. I didn’t need too many hard skills besides general background knowledge on surveillance and sampling coming into this project to make it awesome – just determination, persistence, and a little bit of creativity. Although I completed this project mostly independently, I did receive feedback and guidance from my preceptor during various stages of its development. 

In order to get a sense of the risk for West Nile Virus activity on the reservation, I first began by identifying sixteen spots throughout the reservation where I could set up mosquito traps to monitor for various species. Mosquitoes are most likely to congregate in areas near standing water, so I prioritized these locations. These included homes with birdbaths and trees near stormwater drainage areas. Although Tucson is known for dry heat over the summer, it’s also known for its monsoon season which brings humidity and amplifies mosquito activity.

Once I determined which locations I would use, my weekly routine began. This included picking up dry ice from a nearby grocery store in the afternoon (dry ice attracts mosquitoes and therefore lures them near the traps) and driving around the reservation deploying the traps at each of the predetermined locations. I would leave the traps overnight and would come extra early the following day to collect each trap. Although these steps were repetitive and at times tedious, especially in scorching Arizona heat, it made me appreciate and understand the need for consistency and perseverance in data collection. Once I collected each mosquito bag, I would place it in a cooler with dry ice to immobilize the samples so I could sort through and analyze them back in the office. Because West Nile Virus only stays viable for a couple hours after a mosquito has been killed, it’s important to analyze it as soon as possible after collection to collect accurate results.

Luckily, West Nile activity was quite low in Tucson this year, as determined by our lack of findings which were comparable to other health departments throughout the state. In the event that we did find samples containing high West Nile Virus presence, the next step would have been to notify the tribal health department and individuals living on the reservation through a radio announcement. I developed the visualization template to map out where mosquitoes were throughout the season by using PowerPoint and a birds-eye view map of the reservation. Overall, this project was a fun experience for me because it involved going out in the field and collecting data, and then finding a way to effectively communicate my findings to the general public. It was also rewarding to be able to take ownership on a project and call it my own.