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West Nile Discoveries

mosquito1SLUG REPORT > UC Santa Cruz professor publishes West Nile findings

West Nile Virus came to the United States in 1999, originally appearing in New York and quickly spreading throughout North, South, and Central America. The reason for the  quick spread of the disease has been attributed to the fact that the virus harbors itself in mosquitoes and birds, two species that humans have a surprising amount of contact with. In many cases, the increase of deaths in the local bird population is a large indicator of West Nile within a community.

A. Marm Kilpatrick, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, recently published a paper in the Oct. 21 issue of Science Magazine that delves deeper into just how and where West Nile transmits itself.

“The most important conclusion from the Science paper is that West Nile virus is emblematic of the consequences of combining globalization of trade and travel with human altered habitats,” Kilpatrick writes in an email to Good Times. “There is pretty solid evidence that West Nile virus was introduced into North America through human trade or travel (perhaps an infected mosquito on an airplane).”

Kilpatrick obtained his bachelors degree at UC Los Angeles, but states that his interest in disease ecology came during his PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I got interested in wildlife diseases (and those that infect people and animals) because it is an area where we really haven’t invested that much research effort,” writes Kilpatrick. “As a result, there are some really big questions that still need answering, and thus I feel like I can make real meaningful contributions.”

Kilpatrick joined UCSC in 2008, and currently is doing research on a variety of diseases from Lyme disease to avian influenza.

“I was excited to join the department because of the quality of the faculty and students here, and the range of topics that the faculty works on. Plus, it’s a beautiful place to live and work.”

When asked about ways in which West Nile Virus can be prevented, Kilpatrick says that in humans, prevention is “relatively straight-forward.” Simply make sure to wear bug repellent, long sleeves, and long pants during the peak of the West Nile Virus season, which is considered to span from July to September. However, Kilpatrick states that on a larger scale, citizens can begin prevention in their own backyards.

“There are things we can each do to decrease the larval habitat for mosquitoes—getting rid of tires, and buckets and other things that hold water (cleaning out your gutters),” he says. “This can make a difference if a whole community takes part. However, it’s also useful to think about how the way we use land and landscape our property influences the birds and their abundance around us.”

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