Medical team traps mosquitoes
Hypochondriacs among us can rest a little easier today because of a service provided by the 673d Aerospace Medicine Squadron.
The 673d AMDS is the only official government organization in Alaska that traps mosquitoes in order to have them tested for viruses and disease. From May through the latter part of September, Airmen set miniature light traps at various locations throughout Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The team sets the traps every Tuesday and recovers them the next morning. Once collected, the insects are sorted by gender.
“We work primarily on the females, because they are the ones that feed and hatch the eggs,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Moises AscenionGudino, noncommissioned officer in charge of Entomology for the 673d AMDS.
Ten percent of the trapped mosquitoes are then sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to be tested. After about a week, the test results are sent back and reported to the state of Alaska and to the JBER hospital.
AscenionGudino said the results have been entirely reassuring recently.
“It has been many, many years since Alaska has tested positive for anything,” the Castroville, Calif., native said. “Alaska is pretty much a virus-free state because of the cold weather, but we trap to make sure everything is good. We are the only location in Alaska that traps for mosquitoes and report to the state whatever we find just to make sure they know what we have on base.”
The reason people here may be noticing more mosquitoes than usual can possibly be attributed to the extended winter conditions this region experienced and does not necessarily mean there are more mosquitoes than usual.
“We had a long winter, which made it harder for the mosquitoes to start hatching in early May when they usually start,” AscenionGudino said. “Usually the first flight of mosquitoes that comes out is not our biggest concern because they are just going to come out and feed. Our biggest concern is the second flight, which is what we’re getting now, and they are abundant.”
The entomology team trapped a total of approximately 9,000 mosquitoes in all of 2012. After three weeks of trapping this year, 7,000 have already been captured.
Since the abundance of mosquitoes can negatively affect the JBER mission, AscenionGudino said a process called fogging is sometimes used to thin out the population.
“Fogging is an immediate solution, but not a permanent one, because it will only kill the mosquitoes that are flying,” he said. “All the others that are in the water hatching, it won’t kill.”
Although they have not discovered any diseased insects in quite some time, the entomology team does the JBER community and all of Alaska a service by providing them a little peace of mind regarding an issue that could be very dangerous.
“The biggest impact we have is letting Alaskans know if there are any viruses or diseases that we could avoid,” AscenionGudino said.
And as irritating as mosquito bites can be, one of AscenionGudino’s troops said the task of setting and retrieving the traps is not altogether un-enjoyable.
“I like doing things like this, actually, even though it’s kind of weird,” said Airman Kathleen Cass, 673d AMDS Public Health technician. “This is just a summertime thing, catching mosquitoes, so it kind of changes up what I get to do, which is kind of fun in a way.”