Summer months are known for bug activity. Trips to the lake – even just a walk outside – can be thwarted as mosquitoes descend for a bite. But which mosquitoes are dangerous, spreading diseases like malaria, West Nile virus and yellow fever and which are beneficial, playing an important role in the environment? Which are both? The Military Health System’s Bug Week campaign seeks to answer these questions and educate military personnel and their families around the world about the bugs they encounter.
Kicking off the festivities was an event at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md – Bugapalooza. Bringing together entomologists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Naval Medical Research Center, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Armed Forces Pest Management Board, Fairfax County Department of Public Health and more, the event highlighted bugs and their impacts for approximately 200 visitors of all ages.
In an exhibit titled “Mosquito Wranglers: A Bug’s Eye View of Medical Research,” three representatives from WRAIR participated in the event, including one entomologist from the Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit, located at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md.
Due to their ability to carry and spread disease, mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals in the world. Disease, not combat injuries, is the leading health threat on the battlefield. For that reason, mosquitoes, and the diseases they carry, are a significant topic of study for WRAIR scientists.
While other booths focused on the positive aspects of bugs – including their roles in the ecosystem and use as food for humans – WRAIR showcased live examples of the mosquitoes responsible for spreading Zika virus, Aedes aegypti, and malaria, Anopheles stephensi. Joining them were specimens from WRBU’s extensive catalogue of disease vectors as well as products developed, tested or utilized at WRAIR for mosquito trapping or prevention.
These exhibits engaged families on the vast array of mosquito species in the world, as well as their habits and lifecycles. The most salient takeaway was the primary means of preventing mosquitoes – eliminating pools of standing water, such as swimming pools, ditches or toys in backyards, which are preferred breeding grounds.
WRAIR has long been a leader in vector-borne disease research. MAJ Walter Reed, while a member of the Army Medical School, WRAIR’s predecessor organization, confirmed that mosquitoes were the means of transmission for yellow fever, a discovery allowing for the construction of the Panama Canal. WRAIR scientists have since contributed to the development of vaccines and treatments for Japanese encephalitis, malaria, Zika, dengue and more as well as insecticides, repellents and other bite-prevention technologies.
Bug Week continues through August 2 on www.health.mil/bugs and the @MilitaryHealth and @TRICARE accounts on Facebook and Twitter, as well as WRAIR’s own accounts. Learn more about bug-borne diseases and how to prevent them anywhere in the world!