UT professor working to eradicate disease caused by mosquitos

UT professor working to eradicate disease caused by mosquitos

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Skyler Cooper, 6, died in July 2012 from Lacrosse encephalitis. (source: family) Skyler Cooper, 6, died in July 2012 from Lacrosse encephalitis. (source: family)
Dr. Becky Trout Fryxell began collecting mosquito samples from cemeteries in a 10 mile radius of Skyler Cooper’s home. Three of the cemeteries had mosquito pools that tested positive. Dr. Becky Trout Fryxell began collecting mosquito samples from cemeteries in a 10 mile radius of Skyler Cooper’s home. Three of the cemeteries had mosquito pools that tested positive.
The virus is carried by the Eastern treehole mosquito, but Fryxell discovered it in two other species that are not common to our area. The virus is carried by the Eastern treehole mosquito, but Fryxell discovered it in two other species that are not common to our area.
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – It’s been two years since a Union County boy died from a rare disease caused by a mosquito bite.

La Crosse encephalitis is found in just four parts of the United States, and one of them is here in East Tennessee.

“He was just a really sweet kid, smiled all the time. He was so looking forward to the first grade,” Judy Overholt said clutching a picture of her nephew.

Skyler Cooper, 6, died in July 2012 from LaCrosse encephalitis, a disease that can cause swelling of the brain and can be fatal.

“He started having headaches and then started vomiting,” Overholt said. They took him to the hospital but she said he went downhill fast.

“By the time they found out he had LaCrosse encephalitis, it was too late,” she said.

Dr. Becky Trout Fryxell, an entomologist at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, had just moved to the area in the summer of 2012. She heard about Cooper’s death and immediately wanted to do something.

“The one fatality was enough for me to come back to the lab the next day,” said Dr. Fryxell.

She began collecting mosquito samples from cemeteries in a 10 mile radius of Skyler Cooper’s home. Three of the cemeteries had mosquito pools that tested positive.

“We’re trying to find out why they’re here and why they’re not in other places,” explained Dr. Fryxell.

It’s a rare disease, with just 85 cases nationwide last year, more than a quarter of them were in Tennessee. In Knox County there were seven cases.

The virus is carried by the Eastern treehole mosquito, but Fryxell discovered it in two other species that are not common to our area. The virus is found in less than one percent of the mosquitoes which makes the research that much more taxing. Fryxell and her team have collected more than 15,000 mosquitoes, but all it takes is just one.

“We are going to do whatever we can to not let that happen again, one of the things we try to do is educate,” she explained.

Prevention is possible Fryxell says, but it takes effort.

The treehole mosquito can thrive in a very tiny amount of water, compared to the Culux mosquito which prefers larger pools of standing water.

“It seems like they [can breed] almost everywhere, even in your gutters, so it’s hard to actually control for them,” said Fryxell.

The Culux mosquito carries West Nile virus and is sprayed for by the Knox County Health Department. But that spray isn’t effective on the treehole mosquito.

“There are no known CDC-recommended interventions to reduce the Eastern treehole mosquito population. Unlike the Culex mosquito that carries West Nile Virus, the Eastern treehole retreats during the cooler evening hours when spraying is effective. The spray is not recommended for use during the day because the heat causes it to evaporate too quickly to be effective,” said Katharine Killen, a spokesperson for the Knox County Health Department.

Fryxell says there are preventative measures to take. The CDC recommends wearing repellent with DEET, avoiding areas where mosquitos congregate especially during peak times of dawn and dusk and wearing light colored clothes. Its also important to be on the look out for places where standing water can gather.

Its an awareness the Skyler’s family hopes others will take to heart.

“You never know, when that one mosquito is carrying the disease,” said Overholt. “It’s a chance they have to save their lives that Skyler didn’t have.”

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