Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dengue for Science

During these past three weeks in Costa Rica, the most interesting instructions I have received so far are “don’t wear bug spray.” In the rainforest, they expect me not to wear bug spray? I’m a good sport, so on an overcast day at 8:30 in the morning, seven of us trooped out to the local town and a pineapple plantation sans bug spray. Our goal? To capture Aedes mosquitoes, which are known for carrying a disease called dengue that is a pretty big problem in Costa Rica. The no bug spray idea is sounding worse and worse.

A little background. We were conducting a Faculty Led Project (FLP) with an invited faculty member named Amanda. We were looking at the presence of Aedes mosquitoes in different areas around La Selva, including a nearby town, a pineapple plantation, and the rainforest itself. In order to catch these mosquitoes, Amanda had gone out a few days earlier and set up traps in order to catch both larval and adult forms of this mosquito. There were a few methods for catching them, but my personal favorite was the flashlight aspirator. They had basically repurposed a few flashlights and made them in to fans that were able to suck up adult mosquitoes in to a container so that we could take them back to the lab. They were really fun to use, even if I wasn’t very good at it. We had to look for the adult mosquitoes and quickly use the aspirators to catch them. This is where the “no bug spray” command came in to play.

In order to actually catch any mosquitoes, a few of had to roll up our sleeves and hold our arms out so that the mosquitoes would land on us so that they were easier to see and catch. This worked very well, and I am convinced that mosquitoes like Gringa blood a lot more than Tico blood. Although we were able to catch a decent amount of mosquitoes this way, most of the time the people with the aspirators didn’t move quickly enough. I got more than my fair share of mosquito bites. But all in the name of science!

Even though I didn’t appreciate the bites, it was still so much fun to sacrifice my body and blood for a good cause. We didn’t find any significant results, but we were able to catch a few Aedes adults using the aspirators and look at them under a microscope. Definitely worth the momentary pain.

And don’t worry, it’s been a while since then and I am not showing symptoms of dengue. But I’ll definitely wear bug spray next time.

Emily Leytham

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