01-1016-02.htmlTEXTGoMk-mBIN URI entomology class discovers West Nile virus on campus Risk to humans this late in season is minimal
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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI entomology class discovers West Nile virus on campus
Risk to humans this late in season is minimal

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 16, 2001 -- What started out as a class exercise in catching and identifying mosquitoes around the University of Rhode Island campus has resulted in the discovery that some of those mosquitoes are carrying potentially harmful disease agents.
West Nile virus was found among the mosquitoes captured in traps by students near the turf fields at the corner of Flagg Road and Plains Road. Highlands J virus, which does not cause human disease, was found among the mosquitoes caught at the Learning Landscape Gardens adjacent to the Cooperative Extension Education Center.

"The risk to humans is pretty minimal, given the small number of mosquitoes active this late in the season and given how cool the temperatures are," explained Thomas Mather, professor of plant sciences and director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease. "But the fact that the mosquitoes carrying West Nile are a species that bite mammals suggests that precautions should be taken if people are going to be spending any time outside on campus, especially later in the afternoon. Yet people should not get too worried about it."

West Nile virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 and spread quickly across much of the Northeast. It is rarely fatal and is considered a serious risk only to the elderly and people whose resistance is weakened by other diseases.

In 2001, 14 pools of mosquitoes in nine communities in Rhode Island tested positive for West Nile virus, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. In addition, 208 birds – mostly crows – from throughout the state have also tested positive for the virus. DEM conducts weekly tests for West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis during the mosquito-breeding season.

Mather recommends that insect repellent should be applied and long sleeved shirts and long pants worn if anyone is going to be spending time outside in the vicinity of the turf fields. He added that all mosquitoes in the area will die during the region’s first frost, which he said is likely to be sometime in the next two or three weeks.

Mather’s undergraduate class in "Wildlife and Human Disease" set up traps at four campus locations in mid-September. Traps were checked daily for a week, and the 156 mosquitoes caught were anesthetized and flash-frozen to ensure that any viruses they might carry remain stable. The mosquitoes were then sorted by species and tested for a variety of viruses. This is the first time Mather has used this exercise in his class.

"The class is about the diseases that come from wildlife to people. The exercise was designed as a different approach to helping the students understand the process of studying vector-borne diseases," he said. "The results we got certainly made the whole subject come alive for the students."

For Information: Thomas Mather 874-5616, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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