VSU survey to research mosquito safety

Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
August 29, 2019

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Students at Valdosta State University are stepping out of the lab in the hopes of creating a safer community.

For nearly two decades Valdosta State University has been collecting and testing mosquitoes around Lowndes County for viruses through a mosquito surveillance program.

Now graduate biology student Katie Butts is taking the program to the next level. Butts has developed a survey, and will be going door to door around Lowndes County to find out more about community demographics and mosquito protection tendencies.

"We know West Nile is present in our mosquito population in Lowndes County, but we don't understand it related to people," Butts said. "Hopefully we can understand the exposure to West Nile in our area and at these twelve mosquito trap locations that we are currently studying. Then with the survey we'll be able to see how people are being exposed."

The survey will ask questions like, do you wear mosquito repellent, is there standing water near your home, or do you spend time outdoors around dusk.

District Epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health Kenneth Lowery said these questions could also make homeowners more aware of safe mosquito practices.

"These are things we focus on in our messaging, things that we can do in our own yards to prevent mosquito populations from building up. The survey, I think, will hone in on the individual," Lowery said.

Following the survey, participants will be asked to take a free blood test at the Department of Public Health. The test will show if the person has ever been exposed to the virus.

Officials said 80 percent of people who have been exposed do not show any symptoms, and many others will show symptoms similar to the flu. This is why, health officials said, it's difficult to have an accurate estimate of local exposure.

With more information on the mosquito population and it's impact, officials said they hope it can raise awareness of the importance of mosquito safety.

"This time of year, tremendous amount of activity with mosquitoes, people always asking questions about, what is my risk for West Nile Virus, EEE. I think this information can give us a little insight," Lowery said.

Butts will be surveying about 500 homes around Lowndes County, near the locations of the twelve mosquito traps.

The results do rely on participation, so Butts is asking those chosen to please do so.

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