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Valdosta State students help detect local health alert

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 9:06 AM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) - Students with the West Nile Mosquito Surveillance Program at Valdosta State University recently detected two pools of mosquitoes in Lowndes County positive for the West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Lanier County.

The student workers have trapping and testing mosquitoes for the City of Valdosta and Lowndes County for the last two decades.

"When you look at them up close, they're so different," ID technician and student Yasmin Guzman said.

Guzman and her colleague Kit Carpenter test 25 mosquitoes at a time, making up a single pool.

They're both part of the team detecting the latest local health alert.

"In Lowndes County, we've discovered two mosquito pools that have tested positive for West Nile and then we've also discovered Eastern Equine Encephalitis in an emu in Lanier County," Kristin Patten with the South Health District of the Georgia Department of Health said.

Patten warns residents to use safety precautions to prevent the bite like staying indoors during peak hours of dawn and dusk, using mosquito spray with deet and avoid leaving any standing water outside such a dog bowl or bird bath.

Biology professor Dr. Mark Blackmore says it's early in the season to start detecting the virus.

"Typically, when we start seeing West Nile Virus at this time of year, it's an indication there's probably gonna be a lot of virus circulating on through the summer, especially in the fall," he said.

The group monitors 14 traps throughout the city and county. They've discovered 37 different species in the area.

"We're starting to see a lot more since we've gotten more rain and of course the temperatures are higher and that combination allows the mosquitoes to breed more quickly," Dr. Blackmore said.

Guzman and Carpenter explains the charts of data show a zigzag, rising one week and falling the next. But this week, mosquitoes are on the rise.

"We're starting to see a little bit more of an uptick in general populations," Carpenter said.

Their work is helping keep the local community informed by providing consistent data, year after year.

“Knowing what’s going on with the mosquitoes within our communities is extremely important because it helps us know what to prepare our residents for,” Patten said. “It lets us keep people informed and stay aware that these viruses and these mosquitoes are present in our community and that they need to be taking action to prevent getting infected.”

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