Face of Defense: Hospital Corpsman Helps Battle Mosquito-Borne Diseases

It happens every year. South Texas is dry for weeks, then it rains.

And, then come the mosquitoes.

“They can lay their eggs in even the smallest amount of water,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Wright, a hospital corpsman and preventive medicine technician at Naval Branch Health Clinic Kingsville. “If it dries out, the eggs wait until it’s wet again and then hatch.”

She added, “Mosquitoes live to feed, breed and lay eggs. And carry disease.”

According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, 85 species of mosquito have been identified in Texas. If there is a disease that can be transmitted by mosquito, there’s a species that can do it somewhere in Texas.

Disease Carriers

Texas mosquitoes have been found carrying West Nile, chikungunya, dengue, Zika and malaria. Corpus Christi finds mosquitoes carrying West Nile almost every year.

Wright, originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, works to minimize the disease risk. She tracks mosquito populations at Naval Air Station Kingsville and recommends control measures, like fogging.

“So far, including records before I got here two years ago, we haven’t had any trapped mosquitoes test positive for disease,” Wright said. “We’re still tracking on Zika and West Nile — that’s a big one. Nothing yet, and I hope it stays that way.”

She added, “But we have a mobile population that goes all over the world. Or people can get bit on vacation, come back here, get bit and spread that disease.”

Wright has been in the Navy for seven years and a preventive medicine tech for two. The job includes inspections of food service, childcare and recreational facilities, water systems, bacteriological analysis, epidemiological investigations, mass immunization programs and field sanitation as well as disease vector control.

“It encompasses everything. And I get to go outside,” she said.

But she has a special passion about mosquitoes.

“I hate them. I can’t think of any reason for them to exist except to spread disease,” she said.

‘Mosquito Magnet’

Wright’s primary tool for combating mosquitoes is a ‘mosquito magnet,’ a trap that uses propane to emit a carbon dioxide scent that attracts mosquitoes into a mesh bag.

“I set it up overnight and in the morning extract the mosquitoes, live and dead, package them and ship them overnight to the state lab in Austin,” she said.

The lab sends back results showing the numbers of mosquitoes by species and if any were carrying a disease.

So far this year, there have been few mosquitoes, even with the heavy rains.

Part of that has been due to the ongoing effort in recent years to reduce the number of places mosquitoes can lay eggs, such as ensuring there are no abandoned tires or other standing water traps.

Two intermittent ponds were filled in several years ago, also reducing places mosquitoes could breed.

“We go out and pump the water when it could attract mosquitoes,” said Arturo Alvidrez, a performance assessment representative with NASK Public Works.

“We also use insecticide and fogging. I think we have a very effective control program on the base,” Alvidrez added.

And, recent frequent high winds scatter the insects.

“If the winds are high, say above 20 mph, you’re not going to catch anything in the traps,” Wright said.

But Wright’s policy is not to take chances.

“My attitude is, let’s fog and kill them and not have this risk,” she said. “I’d rather make sure everyone is protected.”