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Public education about mosquito-borne diseases is needed, researcher says

Public education programs about mosquito-borne diseases are needed to avoid human infection in the Paso del Norte region, said Hugo Vilchis, director of the Border Epidemiology and Environmental Health Center (BEC) at New Mexico State University.

The border region needs public education programs to prevent viral illnesses that can be transmitted by mosquito bites, says a New Mexico State University health researcher.

trying to be prepared," Vilchis said. "We need to make the border community aware that increased populations of certain types of mosquito vectors are increasing the chances for several diseases, such as encephalitis, dengue and malaria."

Mosquitoes infected with St. Louis encephalitis have been found in the area since October 1999 and recently they were found in the border communities of Sunland Park and El Paso. Vilchis said this is a serious concern for the local population, especially the elderly, but funds for vector control are limited and more community education is needed.

"My concerns started three years ago, as I noted that there is very little vector control in Southern New Mexico and nothing in Juarez," Vilchis said. "El Paso is the only community in the region that is actively participating in vector control and education programs."

With the aid of the Global Positioning System and mosquito data collected from 1995-1999 by the El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District, BEC has analyzed the data and created a series of maps that will allow for better vector control, Vilchis said.

The project mapped seasonal mosquito populations in the El Paso area. The data showed that there are six prominent species in the area, Culex tarsalis, Aedes dorsalis, Culex quinquefasciatus, Aedes sollicitans, Psorophora columbiae and Aedes vexans, all of which are capable of carrying diseases.

Trap locations and the frequency of trappings were based on complaints and commonly known high mosquito population areas. Traps were set up from late afternoon until after dawn. El Paso uses light traps enhanced with carbon dioxide, both of which attract mosquitoes. Trapping season is broken into rainy and dry seasons. July, August and September are considered the rainy season. May, June and October are designated as the dry season.

Vilchis said he hopes this project will lead to future programs in the Las Cruces, El Paso, Juarez area. He said he would like to see not only development of programs to destroy mosquitoes and larvae, but also community education programs about recognizing breeding places and avoiding exposure to mosquitoes during the evening and nighttime biting hours.

"If we don't give mosquitoes places to live, we won't have problems," Vilchis said. "Many people think this area is at low risk because of the climate, but mosquitoes can breed anywhere there is standing water."

People should get rid of standing water from items and places where it collects including empty containers such as bottles, cans and plastic wading pools. Pet water bowls and bird baths should be changed daily. Swimming pools should be clean and properly chlorinated and any leaky outdoor plumbing and faucets should be repaired.

So far, there have been no confirmed human cases of mosquito-borne diseases in the Paso del Norte region, but the community should not wait for a human case to respond, Vilchis said. There is potential for disease, so public education is important, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control reports an average 128 cases per year of St. Louis encephalitis in the United States. Vilchis said that just four years ago there was an outbreak of dengue along the border. "It's really just an issue of time," he said. "One mosquito could infect up to 15 people."

For more information, call the BEC office at (505) 646-7966.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/mosquito.jpg.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.