July 9, 2014

Graham Nyugen, Office of Communications

Blackmore Continues West Nile Monitoring Project

VALDOSTA – Summer time is known for heat waves and mosquitoes, and it is during this time of year that Dr. Mark Blackmore, professor of biology at Valdosta State University, is his busiest. For 13 years, the professor has tracked mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases in the area.

Blackmore continues his surveillance program this year through funds provided by the City of Valdosta and Lowndes County. Since the start of summer, Blackmore has worked with seven students to collect various species of mosquitoes from different parts of the county to test them.

“Every week, starting on Sunday night, we set traps in 16 different places in Lowndes County,” said Blackmore. “The next morning, the mosquitos are collected and examined under a microscope to identify what species they are. Traps are placed in the same locations every year to track what is normal and what is different from week to week and year to year so we can make comparisons with data that was collected from 10 years ago. The ultimate goal is to be able to predict when the conditions may be appropriate for disease outbreak or when mosquitoes may become a nuisance.”

The city uses this information to determine the right times to spray pesticides as well as the right amounts to spray. 

“This area has about 40 different species of mosquito,” Blackmore explained. “They live off different things, feed at different times of day and live during certain times of the summer. We them and then test them in pools of 25. While they are annoying when they bite us, most species are not the kinds that transmit diseases. There are just a few that are. However last year, we had more positive pools of West Nile Virus than we have ever had in more than a decade of testing.”

Blackmore asserted that while there were more positive pools reported, the number of human cases remained low.

“We benefit in this area because the type of mosquito that is a vector for West Nile Virus is more common in the western United States,” he said. “Sometimes humans can pick up the virus from birds, but it is not common.”

Nonetheless, detection of the virus is used to provide warnings for citizens to take preventive measures. Findings from Blackmore’s surveillance program are also reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year.

Blackmore was sought to assist with West Nile monitoring after the first positive cases were identified in Lowndes County in 2001.

“Officials noticed that several birds had died in the area and after they tested positive for the virus, I was contacted,” he said. “I had experience with mosquito-borne diseases from working in northern Indiana so when the virus was identified here I was just at the right place at the right time. The city and county had some federal money available to help me purchase equipment to monitor the mosquitoes and prepare a report. That was the beginning of my involvement.”

Blackmore has more than 25 years of experience in the study of mosquito biology and their natural parasites as well as other aspects of vector biology and disease ecology. For more information on this surveillance program, contact him at mblackmo@valdosta.edu.