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FDPMU East Works to Control Insect-Borne Disease in New Orleans

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050917-03
Release Date: 9/17/2005 11:00:00 AM

By Journalist 1st Class (SCW/SS) James G. Pinsky, Navy News Service

NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE NEW ORLEANS (NNS) -- Forward Deployable Preventive Medicine Unit (FDPMU) East, currently deployed here in support of Joint Task Force (JTF) Katrina, is assisting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Louisiana Department of Public Health to eliminate vector-borne disease and other insect-related problems associated with Louisiana’s mosquito population.

Diseases like West Nile Virus can be transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrive in wet ecological terrain like that inherent to Louisiana.

“[FDPMU East] has been a great help to us,” said Janet McAllister, CDC Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases. “They have been here on the ground with entomology assets monitoring mosquitoes and flies for several days, and we have accepted their information to prioritize our vector control.”

Hurricane Katrina compounded Louisiana’s insect problem on several levels, including forcing the evacuation of the city’s standard vector control personnel, the destruction of vector disease control equipment, and a dramatic increase in the number of static bodies of water throughout the city of New Orleans and surrounding parishes, which serve as ideal breeding grounds for insects like mosquitoes.

According to Lt. j.g. Ephraim Ragasa, entomologist for FDPMU East, intitial mosquito population monitoring show no significant problems at NAS JRB New Orleans, but continued monitoring have shown an increase in the population. The Navy along with local and state vector disease control officals are using the the Navy's data to target mosquito spraying.

“We’ve always had mosquito problems here in Louisiana,” said Kyle Moppert, a medical entomologist with the Louisiana Department of Public Health. “Hurricane Katrina just made things worse, because it shut down our normal insect control methods.”

Medical personnel are cautious in their approach to combating the insect problems because of the vast number of DoD and other first-responder relief workers in the area.

“We’re approaching the mosquito problem very conservatively,” said Moppert, “because of the impact that spraying for mosquito control can have on the huge relief worker population in the area.”

Ragasa said that just having mosquitoes doesn’t necessarily cause a mosquito problem.

“People get a bug bite and think we need to start spraying pesticides,” said Ragasa, “but that’s not a very scientific approach to determine if you really have a problem or not.”

“In our situation, however,” said Moppert, “we have to be concerned about minimizing the danger of being bitten.”

Not only can diseases be transferred by a mosquito bite, but insect bites make people itch; then they scratch that itch, which can open the skin and lead to an increased chance of infection from other dangers in the environment. “Nobody around here wants to be scratching right now,” said Moppert.

Ragasa is conducting tangible mosquito surveys in troop concentration areas to accurately access mosquito populations. In New Orleans, FDPMU East is using what is known as the CDC Light Trap to collect mosquitoes and then identify their species, which allows them to determine what dangers the insects pose to troops, relief workers and residents.

Once a recommendation to apply airborne pesticides has been made, a request goes out to the Air Force’s 757th Aerial Spray Flight Squadron, based out of Duke Field near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The specially-configured C-130 Hercules aircraft fly specific flight patterns based on data collected by scientists like Bagasa.

FDPMU East is currently forward-deployed to NAS JRB New Orleans as JTF Katrina’s primary preventive medicine authority for DoD relief efforts in the region and continues to work with federal, state, local and fellow DOD personnel to expedite the restoration and maintenance of habitable living conditions in the region.

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