Swatting flies

One of the keys to our land-grant mission is conducting research and having Extension and academic programs that are relevant to the needs of Oklahomans. When I hear of a new or emerging challenge, I frequently find myself brainstorming about who among our faculty and staff has that expertise.

Concerns have emerged rapidly over the past year regarding the Zika virus and the impact it has on people it infects, especially pregnant women and their babies. As soon as I heard of this, I immediately thought of the DASNR faculty who study vectors of diseases like Zika.

2006 Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame This 2006 photograph depicted a female Aedes aegypti mosquito while she was in the process of acquiring a blood meal from her human host, who in this instance, was actually the biomedical photographer, James Gathany, here at the Centers for Disease Control.  The feeding apparatus consisting of a sharp, orange-colored “fascicle”, which while not feeding, is covered in a soft, pliant sheath called the "labellum”, which retracts as the sharp stylets contained within pierce the host's skin surface, as the insect obtains its blood meal. The orange color of the fascicle is due to the red color of the blood as it migrates up the thin, sharp translucent tube. Note the distended abdominal exoskeleton, which being translucent, allowed the color of the ingested blood meal to be visible. DF and DHF are primarily diseases of tropical and sub-tropical areas, and the four different dengue serotypes (DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, and DEN-4), are maintained in a cycle that involves humans and the Aedes mosquito. However, Aedes aegypti, a domestic, day-biting mosquito that prefers to feed on humans, is the most common Aedes species. Infections produce a spectrum of clinical illness ranging from a nonspecific viral syndrome to severe and fatal hemorrhagic disease. Important risk factors for DHF include the strain of the infecting virus, as well as the age, and especially the prior dengue infection history of the patient.

Female Aedes aegypti mosquito. CDC/James Gathany

Dr. Bruce Noden’s specialty is in medical entomology, the study of insects that cause or spread human illness and disease. Dr. Justin Talley is a livestock entomologist, who focuses on research related to insects that cause illness and disease in cattle, sheep, hogs, poultry and other livestock species.

Meanwhile, Dr. Astri Wayadande is an entomologist who studies the transmission of food-borne agents by flies and other insects.

Each of these faculty members holds an appointment in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology and, additionally, Dr. Wayandande holds an appointment in the National Institute for Microbial Forensics and Food and Agricultural Biosecurity. All three of these scientists also are involved in research and Extension programs relevant to the Zika virus and the insects which transmit the virus to humans.

Dr. Noden has been collecting insects across Oklahoma over the past few years to document the extent of those species that are known to be vectors of important diseases such as Zika, dengue fever (mosquitos) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis (ticks). His research has shown the vectors of these diseases are more widespread in Oklahoma than they were previously, and his ongoing work helps to identify potential “hot spots” for future outbreaks of diseases like Zika. That’s important for public health workers to ensure their efforts are directed at the greatest potential threats.

Dr. Talley studies stable fly and horn fly populations as they affect cattle and as they respond to changes in the environment that can be used to the benefit of cattle producers. He and Dr. Wayandande have been studying the role that house flies can play in spreading pathogens in leafy greens and other fresh produce.

Summer isn’t just the hottest time of year, it’s also the season during which we’re most likely to encounter the pesky insects that can affect our health and the health of animals around us. As the public scrambles for information on these threats, either recurring or new, it’s critical that our experts make their knowledge available so we can make the best possible decisions on how to protect ourselves, family members and livestock.

Toward that end, I’d like to highlight several resources receiving a lot of attention:

Our Pest and Hazards Management website features information on some common insects and hazards such as mosquitos, ticks, snakes (not every snake is a threat, though!) and poison ivy.

The weekly television program SUNUP has featured Dr. Talley speaking about mosquitos in Oklahoma, Dr. Andrine Shufran, coordinator of OSU Insect Adventure, discussing spiders and Dr. Erik Rebek sharing his insights on bees and wasps.

Feel free to take advantage of our wide ranging library of 5,000 fact sheets, which can be downloaded free of charge.

Or, you may contact the CDC, Oklahoma State Department of Health or your county Extension office with questions.

So, the next time you’re wondering what and how bugs and pests might affect your life, be sure to check out our experts in DASNR. They won’t bug you, but they sure can help.