These Aren’t Butterflies

IMG_5166Photo: Catching mosquitoes with butterfly nets is easier than you’d think. Shake out the curtains, set a mosquito flying, and swing the net around a few times. Then check the net to see if your hunt was successful.

This morning as I walked through campus at Prince of Songkhla University (PSU) in Hatyai, Thailand, I caught a whiff of plants in the heat, the same smell from hot, humid Indiana summers.  In many ways, the setting here is similar, just a bit more extreme.  The sun seems more intense, the humidity seems wetter, and the heat is hotter and lasts longer than in the Midwest states.One thing that makes it different, though, is that here the mosquito bites are more than just a nuisance and a cause for itching.  They carry things like dengue and chikungunya, and in other regions of Thailand, things like Japanese encephalitis and malaria, just to name a few.

While it’s tempting to think that things like malaria are only a problem for “other people”, vector-borne diseases are a real threat in places you might live. With the World Cup in Brazil fast approaching, dengue is a big worry for organizers of such a multi-national event.  According to WHO, over the last 50 years, there has been a 30 fold increase in dengue incidence.

April 17, 2014 marked World Health Day, the 66th anniversary of the creation of the WHO, and a focus on vector-borne diseases like dengue. According to CDC and WHO vector-borne diseases account for 17% of the estimated global burden of all infectious diseases.

Dengue and Chikungunya, my research focus, are both carried by Aedes species mosquitoes and cause problems here in Thailand.  These mosquitoes also live happily in large parts of the US. Disease-free, for now… That’s why when we had the opportunity to go catch mosquitoes in the Phattalung Province, I jumped on it.

IMG_5018 Photo: This woman was one of the leaders of the village, sending her daughter to grant us access to many of the other homes.  She also reminded me of my mother – so we got a picture together!

In the small fishing village, 10 families opened their home to our team of students and researchers, armed with butterfly nets and little vials.  We spent about 20 minutes shaking out curtains and clothing, shining lights in dark corners, and checking water containers for larvae and pupae.  The homes we visited were all part of the same community, but the diversity of resources used for constructing the houses was wide: from cool concrete and tile to wooden shop houses where families live just behind the goods, to bamboo constructions on stilts over water.

IMG_5080 Photo: Bamboo house with a bucket of lemongrass in the kitchen to ward off mosquitoes.  Unfortunately, the water in the bucket provides a perfect breeding ground for more mosquitoes.

IMG_5182 Photo: Some of the villains we apprehended.  After spending just 20 minutes in each residence, we had at least 10-15 mosquitoes per home, often more.  The days hunt amounted to nearly 200 mosquitoes that were then identified, sorted, and frozen for later analysis.  We also collected larvae, pupae, and set out filter paper in small plastic buckets to collect mosquito eggs (picked up 3 days later). 

Photos courtesy of Marc-Grégor Campredon (www.marc-gregor.com)

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