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Public health ‘bites’ back

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua King
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

With the weather cooling as the winter months approach, the prevalence of mosquitos is on the rise.

The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group public health office, which is responsible for the force health protection of the base populous, has been trapping and sending mosquitos back to the United States to be tested for diseases like West Nile virus, dengue and malaria.

“Public health is responsible for doing surveillance of the different mosquito vectors around base,” said Tech. Sgt. Austin Brinker, 386th EMDG public health non-commissioned officer in charge. “We trap in places near where people often are. We then have them tested for diseases so we can have them [the base] take the proper precautions.”

Service members can help themselves and public health by taking a few steps to help prevent being nibbled on by the mosquitos.

“The best way for people to avoid being bitten in the first place is to wear long sleeve shirts and pants, and apply DEET to exposed skin,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Sallaz, 386th EMDG public health technician.

A common misconception is that mosquitos are attracted to different blood types but they are in fact attracted to light and carbon dioxide, which we exhale through normal breathing.

The trapping process takes these factors into account. The team uses a bright LED light above a netted bag, the light attracts the mosquitos and once they are in the bag they are unable to escape.

“At home station we would use dry ice to attract them as well as the light,” said Capt. Gabrielle Moore, 386th EMDG public health officer. “Dry ice is hard to come by in a deployed location so we use brown sugar water with yeast instead and it does the trick.”

After they are trapped and frozen, each batch of mosquitos is separated into two piles, male and female. The females are sent to a lab for testing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

We send the females because they are the ones that bite us to produce their eggs, added Moore.

The public health team will continue to trap and test mosquitos for diseases as long as the weather stays cool enough for the mosquitos to bite. Mosquitos are not an issue during the summer months because it is too hot for them to survive long enough to bite anyone.

“So far we have not detected any diseases from the mosquitos,” said Sallaz.

“If we were to detect a disease, we would work with the different base agencies to get the word out about how to prevent the threat,” said Moore. “Our job is to ensure the Airmen of the base are healthy so they are able to complete the mission.”