HOUSTON, TX – They`re Harris County`s first line of defense in the fight against bug borne diseases like Zika…The mosquito hunters!
Otherwise known as the Harris County Public Health Services, mosquito control division. They patrol all of Harris County, laying traps, testing for disease, and making carrier bugs, dead bugs!
Each day, the surveillance team cycles through segmented areas of Harris County. They place traps in the afternoon, and pick them up the next morning.
“Storm sewer traps depending on the location,… we’ve had incidents of 10,000 mosquitoes,” says Maximea Vigilant, a Surveillance Entomologist for the county.
10,000!!! In one trap!? The day`s catch gets euthanized in a freezer set to -80 degrees Celsius.
“Once the mosquito dies, the virus starts to break down… So as long as we keep the mosquitoes cold, the virus doesn`t break down,” explains Surveillance Lab Coordinator, Christy Roberts.
The mosquitoes get sorted by species and gender, and then put in vials to go to virology.
“We will test for various arboviruses including St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile virus, Dengue, and Chickengunya, we are currently testing our Aedes mosquitos for Zika virus, off site. We will have the capability for testing on site for Zika within the next few weeks,” says virologist, Cheryl Freeman
That`s right. Because of Zika, the lab`s getting an upgrade, and it isn`t cheap.
“The upgrade is almost half a million dollars, it is worth it because, to save a life, to protect someone from a mosquito born disease, you can`t put a price to it.,” says Director Mustapha Debboun.
Negative test results are a sigh of relief, but a positive test result means it`s time to fight back!
“This season we have found just one pool that has West Nile virus in it. So that tells us where the mosquitoes are positive with the virus, so we can go to that area and spray,” Debboun explains.
Why not just spray everywhere? Not only would it cost too much in resources, but these bugs adapt and become immune. This isn`t just pest control folks, it`s defending the public from disease.
“Being called a mosquito hunter is an honor to us. Because we know we can go out there, we can find what is out there, and protect the public,” says Vigilant.
“If we can save 1 person, that`s a win for us,” adds Debboun.