Mosquito Control interns

Interns Pursue Menacing Mosquitoes

Goal is to create database of insects' behavior in Hillsborough County

Four graduate students and one undergraduate with USF's College of Public Health will spend six months working with Hillsborough County Mosquito Control, focusing largely on Aedes aegypti, the species that can spread Zika virus.

The pairing is an opportunity both for the students and for Mosquito Control officials, who relish the chance to begin building a database using recently installed software.

The timing of the interns' arrival in May is perfect. Though mosquitoes are around throughout the year, they are most prevalent after late spring and summer rains moisten the insects' larvae, a necessity for adult mosquitoes to hatch.

On a recent morning, as storm clouds moving east over the Gulf of Mexico offered the promise of coastal downpours, the students and their mentors discussed what they hope to get out of the mutual arrangement.

Graduate student Sarah Shafer is the lone holdover from last year's inaugural internship program. She says the proactive approach to controlling mosquito populations remains the same this year: Find and eliminate larvae before they hatch into adult mosquitoes. But the ability to do so, she notes, is greatly enhanced by the new Mosquito Analytics and Response System.

The computer-mapping software enables Mosquito Control to combat the insects and their larvae, in real time, throughout Hillsborough County. "We had a similar idea last year but really didn't have the technology to implement it," Sarah says. "We couldn't get a comprehensive view of what was happening."

Sarah's fellow interns also are reaping benefits of the high-tech insights. Mosquito fighters once stuck pins on wall maps to mark mosquito populations. Now they input and share timely data with sophisticated software.

"This program is an eye-opener for me," says graduate student Samuel Alao. Samuel ultimately plans to return to his native Africa, where mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria are common. But first he wants to hone his ability to spot trends, predict outcomes, and eradicate the spread of diseases.

Working with Mosquito Control will help him along that path, Samuel says. Also gathering information for the agency's nascent database are graduate students Megan Ostl and Haris Sohail, and undergraduate Lauren Rahal.

The interns say their in-the-field work with Mosquito Control dovetails nicely with what they've learned at the University of South Florida. And, they say, it's nice to get outdoors after months spent in classrooms and labs.

The data they collect will establish a baseline in Mosquito Control's new system. Ten years from now the information will provide a reference point for assessments of how well the County is doing in its battle against nuisance mosquitoes that affect quality of life, and those that can spread diseases such as West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and Zika.

Learn more about mosquito-borne diseases and how to control mosquitoes around your home.

Photo information: Interns from USF's College of Public Health are spending six months at Hillsborough County Mosquito Control.