Campus News

UW-Madison students in Houston to aid with mosquito control

Melissa Farquhar and Erin McGlynn, UW-Madison professional students, headed to Houston last Wednesday to assist efforts to remove the vast number of mosquitoes caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Melissa Farquhar and Erin McGlynn, UW-Madison professional students, headed to Houston last Wednesday to assist efforts to remove the vast number of mosquitoes caused by Hurricane Harvey.

After Hurricane Harvey’s widespread flooding resulted in the surfacing of millions of mosquitos that hampered recovery efforts, two UW-Madison students headed to Houston last Wednesday to assist with the infestation.

Melissa Farquhar and Erin McGlynn, UW-Madison professional students, are helping to identify mosquitoes that were trapped by Clarke, a global environmental services company. According to McGlynn, who is studying to get a master’s degree in public health, the standing water caused by the hurricane attracted the mosquitos.

“The standing water caused the kind of environment that mosquitoes need to breed,” McGlynn said. “Anytime you have standing water, whether it’s a bucket in your backyard that fills up with rainwater or huge areas that are flooded after a hurricane, you’ll see more mosquitos because that’s where they’re able to lay eggs and mature.”

The project, which is led by Clarke’s head entomologist Rajeev Vaidyanathan, aims to remove the bugs through the spraying of pesticides and the trapping of mosquitoes. This is not because they are dangerous to contact, but rather that the number of bugs is interfering with everyday life, Vaidyanathan said.

“They’re not important vectors of disease, but they're emerging in such numbers to cause significant nuisance,” Vaidyanathan said. “Typically, when we collect mosquitoes, you might get 20, 30 or 50 in a trap. We’re collecting thousands per night. It makes life unbearable for people there.”

Farquhar and McGlynn became involved with the effort after Vaidyanathan contacted Susan Paskewitz, the chair of the UW-Madison’s entomology department and co-director of the Upper Midwestern Regional Center for Vector-Borne Disease, a new center that is housed at the university.

The pair spent the summer researching vector-borne diseases in animals at the UW–Madison Arboretum, and were hired shortly after to assist Clarke’s “overwhelmed” staff, according to Vaidyanathan.

Although the students are unsure of whether or not they are getting paid for their work, they confirmed they are temporary employees of Clarke. They will work until Sept. 21.

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