We're just getting the bugs out: SJ Airmen combat mosquito population, West Nile virus

Janet Driggers, North Carolina Public Health environmental specialist, and Tech. Sgt. Kevin Richards, NCO-in-charge of base public health, sort the collection of mosquitoes so they can be identified to determine their species.  After they are properly identified and separated, they are sent to state labs for testing. (Photo by Master Sgt. Art Webb)

Janet Driggers, North Carolina Public Health environmental specialist, and Tech. Sgt. Kevin Richards, NCO-in-charge of base public health, sort the collection of mosquitoes so they can be identified to determine their species. After they are properly identified and separated, they are sent to state labs for testing. (Photo by Master Sgt. Art Webb)

Staff Sgt. Aaron Geyer, public health technician, prepares dry ice to place in a light trap that attracts mosquitoes. Dry ice emits carbon dioxide when it evaporates, attracting female mosquitoes.  (Photo by Staff Sgt. Les Waters)

Staff Sgt. Aaron Geyer, public health technician, prepares dry ice to place in a light trap that attracts mosquitoes. Dry ice emits carbon dioxide when it evaporates, attracting female mosquitoes. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Les Waters)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- What are base health officials doing to protect our community against viruses like West Nile and Eastern Equine that can be transmitted from mosquitoes? That was the big question last week after preliminary reports showed positive for the WNV. However, retesting of these samples confirmed negative for West Nile Virus by the North Carolina Health Department Laboratory on Wednesday.

"This negative test occurred even with 80% accuracy for the preliminary testing," said Capt. Oleg Voronin, public health flight commander. "However, WNV was detected and confirmed this year in our state, so prevention remains critical for all of us."

The previous increase in numbers of mosquitoes detected by the base surveillance program prompted on-base spraying to eliminate adult mosquitoes. Immediately following these preliminary results, public health officials started informing the community through base wide emails, marquee notices, and placing information on the commanders' access channel.

The base Pest Management Program works closely with the North Carolina Public Health Pest Management team to monitor, detect and control mosquitoes that have the potential to transmit disease.

According to base public health officials, the West Nile Virus is not new to North Carolina. The WNV was detected here in the year 2002 and reported in 48 contiguous states.

Captain Voronin emphasizes families should not be complacent about protecting themselves against mosquito bites since there is no vaccine to protect us against WNV.

"Positively identifying mosquitoes carrying WNV in our community underscores the reason why we advocate prevention," he added. "To prevent any mosquito-transmitted illness, we must avoid mosquito bites and eliminate their known breeding sites -- prevention is the key to remaining healthy!"

Locating, identifying and testing any type of pest is part of Janet Driggers' job. She is the environmental specialist for North Carolina Health Pest Management.

"We work directly with the base medical entomology team to educate the public, conduct surveillance of land areas and control activity through pest management," said Ms. Driggers.

The team collects standing water near wooded areas and tests larvae by collecting mosquitoes in the morning and evening when they are most active.

"Mosquito samples from the base and in Wayne County go through preliminary testing for the WNV first," Ms. Driggers said. "Those results are sent to the State Public Health Lab for confirmation; sometimes positive tests can come back negative."

The Base Pest Management office is responsible for control once a problem is identified.

"Corrective action includes notifying our community that fogging will begin in populated areas using Ultra Low Volume Spraying (ULV fogging) in and around housing and main base," said Jameson Marshall, 4th Civil Engineer, pest management supervisor. "We apply the adulticide fog at dusk and dawn for three consecutive days to eliminate flying insects. Once this is completed, more adult trapping and testing is conducted."

In conjunction with fogging, pest management makes seasonal applications of a bacteria larvacide that dissolves in water when applied to standing water and kills mosquito larva to prevent their development into adult mosquitoes. These briquettes or mosquito dunk are placed in storm drains, woodland pools streams, and bodies of water on and around the base.

According to Staff Sgt. Aaron Geyer, public health technician for the aeromedical dental operations squadron, prevention remains the key for everyone. He emphasizes the top three prevention keys according to the Center for Disease Control: wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors, conducting outdoor activities during the day and using insect repellent.

"Using brand name repellents is like using stealth technology; it only masks you, but it doesn't kill the mosquitoes," Staff Sgt. Geyer said. "The DEET chemicals in these repellents will protect you from getting mosquito bites. The chemical shields a person like a stealth aircraft making the target less likely to get hit by a missile because you're hidden to the enemy."

Educating the public about ways to eliminate potential breeding sites around their home and avoid getting mosquito bites is critical in protecting members of our community.

"Our military families include young children and we have a large retiree population; both of these age groups are most susceptible to getting the virus," Staff Sgt. Geyer said. "It's important we all work together to continue the process of education, surveillance and control with our base, local and state partners."

According to the base public health officials, Seymour Johnson is receiving excellent support from the N.C. Health Department.

"Ms. Driggers continues to help the base identify species of mosquitoes that are trapped to give us information we need about breeding sites, biting times and flight range -- all are critical to focus our efforts exactly where they need to be," Capt. Voronin said. "Viral testing capabilities provide the epidemiological link to keep 4th Medical Group health care providers informed of potential disease risks in the local area."

For more information, contact the Public Health Office at 722-1172 or visit the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources webpage (www.deh.enr.state.nc.us) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov). For information on using repellent products on children consult a health care provider or contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378 or npic.orst.edu.