Disease Detectives: Student researchers partner with the county health department to track down mosquitoes

Author: Deanna Csomo Ferrell

Students At Spicer Lake

University of Notre Dame graduate student Michelle Huang and junior Joseph Afuso pulled on their wading boots and sprayed a cloud of mosquito repellent onto their skin before gathering their supplies, including some dry ice, which Huang dumped into a round thermos.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide given off by the dry ice, and the two were hoping they had attracted some mosquitoes at three different styles of traps they had set at St. Joseph County’s Spicer Lake.

Of the 54 different species of mosquitoes in Indiana, around eight to 10 — there is not a firm number — are considered public health hazards. The University’s Department of Biological Sciences began working with the St. Joseph County Health Department this summer to boost vector surveillance efforts. Although the health department monitors mosquito traps around the county, lack of staff and the distance to Spicer Lake prevented technicians from surveilling that mosquito-rich location. The county needed a way to further monitor potential outbreaks of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile virus, and Notre Dame wanted a new opportunity to engage undergraduate students in research specific to public health.

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