Navy teams up with DOH to help humans defend against mosquitoes

How is the state and Navy teaming up against mosquitoes on Oahu? Hawaii-based Navy entomologist Lt. Ryan Larson and Hawaii Department of Health entomologist Dr. Jeomhee Hasty talked about a state-military partnership that hopes to help humans defend against these pesky bugs.

Dr. Hasty details how the Hawaii Department of Health currently surveying for mosquitoes: “Since 2010, the Hawaii Department of Health has been surveying and monitoring both established and invasive mosquito populations at the Honolulu International Airport. It is important to understand what mosquito species are in Hawaii and where they are established as some are more efficient in transmitting diseases than others. Presently, there are no mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue fever in Hawaii. However, travelers infected overseas can bring the disease back home where local mosquitoes can bite the patient and start local transmission of the disease in Hawaii.”

This joint mosquito surveillance between the US Navy and HDOH is intended to develop a better understanding of the mosquito populations beyond the airport and better protect the general public and military personnel. The Navy and state collaboration started last summer when an emerging mosquito borne disease, chikungunya, was popping up across the Pacific.

“We realized we need to be prepared to respond in case this disease arrived in Hawaii. There are a lot of folks, both military and civilian, that travel a lot around the Pacific, which increases chances of an infected traveler bringing a mosquito borne disease here. Therefore, to strengthen our capacity to respond, we realized we need to collaborate with our counterparts from the Hawaii Department of Health. This has definitely increased the sharing of data between the two agencies and has identified capabilities,” continues Lt. Larson.

This collaboration has evolved over time. Lt. Larson says he Navy is now in the early stages of coordinating a joint project, in which it hopes to assist the state DOH with conducting mosquito surveillance Island-wide. It would help HDOH expand mosquito surveillance coverage, which could potentially identify areas of higher risk of mosquito borne disease on Oahu. This project would also help some of the military members maintain a skill set.

Dr. Hasty says some mosquito species are more concerning than others; of particular local interest is the Aedes aegypti which is more efficient in transmitting dengue fever than the mosquitoes currently in Hawaii. The mosquito surveillance program at the airport detected the presence of Aedes aegypti multiple times from 2012-2014. Each time, aggressive measures were taken to ensure breeding mosquitoes were eliminated and keep monitoring for the population establishment.

Another mosquito species of concern is Anopheles. These mosquitoes are very good transmitters of malaria. The state believes this species is not present in Hawaii, but entymologists say a  surveillance program is critical in ensuring problematical mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti and certain Anopheles species do not become established in Hawaii.

There are a couple of different traps entymologists use. These traps use visual and odor cues to attract mosquitoes.
One is a light trap, and uses light as a visual cue to draw in the mosquitoes. Carbon dioxide is used in conjunction with it because it imitates respiration. The mosquitoes get attracted to these cues and get sucked into the trap.

The second major trap is called a sentinel trap, targeting day-biting mosquitoes. It uses a chemical lure that smells like dirty socks. Mosquitoes are often attracted to the chemicals our feet emit and often to prefer to bite ankles. This trap also has a strong visual contrast, which the mosquitoes are attracted to.

Here’s what you can do to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes

1: Reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home. Mosquitoes need standing water to reproduce. If standing water is limited, their reproduction is limited, so turn over or throw away anything that collects standing water. Change water in flower vases frequently. Flush bromeliads (or plants that hold water) weekly or spray their water-holding areas with soapy water. Fix screens to keep mosquitoes out of your homes.

2: Wear long pants and sleeves when in a mosquito-infested area and use insect repellent containing 20-30% DEET.

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