Army program protects Soldiers, families from mosquito-borne disease

Let’s face it; bugs are a nuisance. Yes, some can perform crucial functions in our ecosystem, like aeration, pollination, and controlling the proliferation of ‘bad’ bugs, but most are pests.

In the Army, Soldiers and their families are not alone in the fight. Army installations employ Integrated Pest Managers to help keep bugs from bothering Soldiers and their families at Army installations around the world.

When mosquitoes become pests on U.S. Army installations, pest control managers rely on the four D’s to help Fight the Bite.

Defend: Mosquitoes are out all hours of the day and night; always protect yourself.

Drain: Eliminate breeding grounds by removing standing water around your home including tarps, tree holes, bird baths, pool covers, gutters and any other containers holding standing water around your home.

Dress: Wear light colors, keep clothing loose; and cover up by wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.

Defeat: Choose a mosquito repellent that has been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are some rules to follow when using repellents:

Read the label carefully
Apply sparingly to exposed areas
Do not apply to clothing or face masks
Keep repellent away from eyes, nose and mouth
Avoid children’s hands when spraying; so repellent does not contact eyes or mouth
If a reaction occurs, wash repellent-treated skin and call your doctor

“All pests look for three things: food, shelter, and water. Modern pest control prevents or eliminates access to those things,” said Dr. Bill Miller, U.S. Army Environmental Command entomologist. “Integrated pest management means controlling pests with less toxic measures or by more cost-effective means. IPM saves dollars and makes sense.”

Miller said prevention is the best cure to fight the bite. The IPM program has a multi-layered approach with the goal of curing, not treating the problem, with chemical intervention as the last line of defense.

The Army’s IPM program has reduced pesticide use for the last 10 years, resulting in $1.2 million in savings; this measures the approximate cost of pesticides not used over the last ten years. That equates to 60 percent fewer chemical products in the environment. While we can estimate the overall cost savings, it’s impossible to quantify the lasting benefit to the environment as a result of this strategy.

And yet, pests persist.

At U.S. Army Garrison Adelphi Laboratory Center in Maryland, there were some areas where water couldn't be fully removed. To prevent mosquitoes from establishing a breeding ground, the Walter Reed Environmental Health staff treated the water with an insect growth inhibitor that only targets mosquitoes and minimizes environmental risks. This is just another way Army pest managers are helping to ensure the health and safety of the total Army, according to Bridget Kelly Butcher, a conservation specialist at Adelphi.

Benedict Pagac, chief of the Entomological Sciences Division at Fort Meade, is responsible for the mosquito surveillance program at all East Coast installations. He was among the first to identify West Nile virus at the Naval Observatory in Washington during the initial outbreak.

Other common mosquito-borne diseases include Zika, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, and Chikungunya.

Pagac said mosquito management is a team effort.

“I am continually impressed with the close working relationship between the environmental and engineering folks who control mosquitoes and the preventive medicine specialists who trap, collect and monitor mosquito populations,” he said, adding that it takes good planning and utilizing a scientific approach to ensure that control is effective and safe.

"We need to continually remind ourselves that the pesky thing biting us, comes from the water,” said Pagac. “Most often water that doesn't need to be there.”

“If there's no water, there are no mosquito eggs, larvae, pupae, and then no mosquito adults. And the best way to control mosquitoes is to not give them a nice, wet home to begin with. I get a weird satisfaction in showing my friends, during their back yard barbeques, what mosquito larvae look like. I usually find them in the flower pot saucers, wrinkled tarps, or pails left outdoors,” he said.

You can download and print an activity book for children HERE, with an answer key HERE

By Jacquee Minor, U.S. Army Environmental Command contractor