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Health concerns: Mosquito mapping may help


Got mosquitoes? Thanks to a new Web-based mapping system, you soon will be able to see if West Nile encephalitis or some other mosquito-borne disease is in your neighborhood.

The Knowledge Engineering Lab in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University is heading up the project to develop the statewide Mosquito Spatial Information Management System. The real-time system -- that will be available through the Internet -- will map disease occurrence, epidemiology and control procedures, said Dr. Robert Coulson, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station professor.

Based on similar maps developed last year for Brazos County by Catherine Zindler, a Texas A&M entomology graduate student, the system will allow health officials to target disease hot spots and determine whether insecticides used for control are working ( Information will be contributed and made available to governmental officials, state health officials and universities. Coulson also expects the public to use the system as well. "The idea behind that system is that it would facilitate planning, problem solving and decision support in regard to mosquito-borne diseases," Coulson said. With insect-vectored diseases, "having reliable information that can be addressed immediately in real time actually has a lot to do with response time," he said. For example, if health officials need to know how well a control procedure works, the mapping system will allow quick access to that information, he said.

The Web site will be easy to use. "If it is not user-friendly, people will not use it," Coulson said. "The maps have to be presented where they are useable and understandable by people." This information is not available now, said Dr. Jim Olson, Experiment Station entomologist. The mapping system is part of a larger multi-agency project to determine the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases and mosquito resistance to insecticide, he said. "In many parts of the state, we don’t have a clue as to what level of insecticide resistance exists," Olson said. "It’s a bad time to find out you’ve got it (resistance) in the middle of a disease outbreak. It is better you take care of it well in advance."

The Experiment Station has developed a Mosquito Control Research Initiative that will be submitted to the next session of the Texas Legislature. The Experiment Station is asking for $1 million per year, which would allow the agency to expand this and other mosquito-related research programs, Olson said. "This is a very important initiative," Coulson said. "Mosquito-borne diseases affect practically all Texans in one way or another."

The information on the Web site will be available through maps and text, he said. "Much of the information, as much as 80 percent, of the information we deal with is spatially referenced," Coulson said. "That is, it has a map base to it. In this MTV world we live in today, people are very visually oriented." The Knowledge Engineering Lab would add information as it is needed.

This approach has been used for other insects and in other parts of the United States, but Coulson said he knows of no such system for mosquitoes-borne diseases. However, he said the template they are using for their system can be used in other places. "Our focus now is on the state of Texas and the problems mosquito-vectored diseases present to our citizens."

Edith Chenault | EurekAlert!
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