Do you know Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus? The Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico knows these fellows all too well. They are not colleagues or Soldiers or even characters in the community. They are mosquitoes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are responsible for the illnesses that are currently creating major public health concerns in the Caribbean Islands, Central America and South America.
With its bounty of natural beauty and its rich heritage, Puerto Rico is an idyllic paradise, but the concentrated population and lush environment on the island also create a “perfect storm” for the proliferation of the Yellow Fever mosquito and Asian Tiger mosquito, which are aggressive biters and the primary carriers of Dengue Fever,
Chikungunya virus and Zika virus. Per the 2015 Census, the island boasts over three million residents – one million of whom live in the San Juan area. In addition, Puerto Rico has a sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 80 degrees and copious rainfall. According to Mr. Victor Rodriguez-Cruz, an Environmental Protection Specialist at Fort Buchanan, the Aedes mosquitoes have a preference for habitats around urban settings, which tend to have many standing pools of water for breeding. “[The climate] provides adequate conditions for mosquitoes to breed, and with our high population density, there is a potential risk of mosquitoes transmitting a variety of arthropod-borne viruses,” he said.
While all mosquito-borne illnesses are dangers to public health, Zika virus is a particularly dire issue. Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus present symptoms that include fever, headache, muscle ache and joint pain. Although similar to those of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus, the symptoms of Zika virus are much milder in and sometimes completely absent from afflicted individuals. But, Zika virus can also cause neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome and a brain-damaging birth defect called microcephaly, which is a life-long and incurable condition that can often remain undetected until an infected child is born. Furthermore, Zika is blood borne and can be transmitted from human to human through sexual contact, blood transfusions and in-utero transmission.
The CDC estimates that the Zika virus now affects an estimated one million people in South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and the illness is spreading rapidly – even into the United States.
Fort Buchanan is leading the charge against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases in Puerto Rico. “It is important for the Installation to protect the community by proactively controlling mosquito populations,” Rodriguez-Cruz remarked. “Our vector management program is directed towards maintaining mission readiness by protecting the well-being of our Soldiers, their Families and the Civilians who support them.”
In collaboration with Army Public Health Command through Rodriguez Army Health Clinic, Fort Buchanan’s Installation Integrated Pest Management Program has developed a tiered program to control the mosquito population and reduce the spread of Zika. They are using traps to capture and monitor mosquitoes on the Installation, and they are implementing mosquito breeding area surveillance to determine the origins of the populations and remove their habitats. When mosquito populations are discovered, larvae are removed, in some cases. In cases where source reduction is not feasible, though, ultra-low-volume pesticides are applied. Additionally, Fort Buchanan is partnering with Federal and state health departments to share their epidemiological and ecological information.
“This tiered approach permits us to attack the mosquito population throughout all stages of the insect’s life cycle: egg, larvae, pupae and adult,” said Rodriguez-Cruz. “This approach implements Integrated Pest Management practices that rely on the judicious use of both chemical and non-chemical treatments to prevent and control mosquitoes. This methodology minimizes potential environmental impacts and prevents pollution by reducing sole reliance on pesticides. Also, surveillance of mosquito populations helps determine the need for control and helps us to monitor the effectiveness of the program.”
PREVENTING MOSQUITO-BORNE ILLNESSES
Remove any containers with standing water from your Army Reserve facility or personal property. Standing water is the primary breeding habitat for mosquitoes.
Clean and refresh pet water dishes, watering troughs and birdbaths at least once each week.
Cover outdoor pools and spas when they are not used, and ensure that they are properly chlorinated.
Clear rain gutters and roofs of debris and standing water.
Install mosquito-repellant plants such as citronella, mint, marigold and catnip in your garden.
Stay inside when mosquitoes are active.
Close doors and windows. Use air conditioning to cool your facility.
When you are outside, use oscillating fans to deter mosquitoes.
Use a mosquito repellant that has been registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ingredients such as DEET and picaridin are considered to be safe and effective when used as directed.
Wear long sleeves and pants when feasible.
Monitor your health. If you notice any symptoms of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya virus or Zika virus, seek medical assistance.