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NEWS | April 26, 2010

Tiny pests emerge with rain, warmth

By Robert Goetz 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

Green grass and wildflowers are evidence of the beauty of spring, but warmer weather also marks the return of an itty-bitty beast that can quickly ruin enjoyment of the great outdoors.

At Randolph, the 359th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight's yearly ritual of monitoring the base twice-weekly for the presence of mosquitoes began last week and, despite plentiful rainfall since last fall, the first collection yielded just three of the tiny pests.

"The cooler weather so far is a factor," said Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Woodland, 359th MDOS Public Health Flight NCO in charge of community health, explaining the low initial mosquito count. "Mosquitoes like warm weather; I think it will be an average year."

The 359th AMDS collection effort, which continues until October, involves placing mosquito traps at the horse stables, the dorm and the billeting facility and a mosquito magnet at the golf course. Personnel place the traps Tuesday and Thursday and collect any trapped mosquitoes Wednesday and Friday.

"We look at places on base where we have our resident population and at breeding areas like ponds at the golf course," said Sergeant Woodland.

The mosquito traps use dry ice, which emits carbon dioxide that attracts the insects. Once the mosquitoes are close enough, a fan sucks them inside the device. Mosquito magnets, which Sergeant Woodland said look like boat motors, are similar to traps except they are powered by propane and use an Octenol-based attractant instead of dry ice.

When public health personnel collect the samples, they separate the female mosquitoes from the males and send them to laboratories at Brooks City-Base or the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District to see if they are carrying disease-causing viruses or parasites. Females are collected because they are the only mosquitoes that require a blood meal.

Last year, with drought conditions still prevalent, personnel collected an average of 10 mosquitoes each time they checked the traps, Sergeant Woodland said.

"A trap index of 25 or more is high," she said. "If it's over 25, there's definitely a significance."

Sergeant Woodland said no disease-carrying mosquitoes were trapped at Randolph last year.

She said the Aedes albopictus is the most common species in Texas and it can transmit the Dengue virus, which was responsible for a large outbreak in South Texas five years ago, as well as other viruses. Brownsville had 1,251 reported cases of Dengue fever that year, she said.

Other diseases associated with mosquitoes include malaria, West Nile fever, encephalitis and heartworm.

Sergeant Woodland said base residents can mitigate the mosquito problem by getting rid of their breeding grounds - emptying kiddy pools, jars, bottles and flower pots; not over-watering the lawn; keeping grass short and pulling tall weeds; and sweeping away puddles after thunderstorms.

"You should empty anything that holds water," she said. "A mosquito only needs a capful of water to lay eggs."

To keep mosquitoes at bay outdoors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people use spray-on repellents containing ingredients such as diethyl toluamide, commonly known as DEET, and Picaridin.

Other recommendations by the CDC are to wear long pants and long sleeves and to apply permethrin or another Environmental Protection Agency-registered repellent to clothing.

Sergeant Woodland said mosquito magnets are available to base residents for temporary use in their yards on a first-come, first-served basis.

"The magnets are effective because mosquitoes are drawn more to them than they are to people," she said.

For more information, call public health at 652-2456.