The Used Tire Management Fund and Emergency Public Health Fund support PRI’s medical entomology team, which conducts statewide surveillance for mosquitoes that are vectors for pathogens that infect both people and animals, such as West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis virus, La Crosse virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, Zika virus, and dengue virus.
The team’s state-of-the-art research and surveillance activities help Illinois reduce the risks associated with mosquitoes and mosquito-borne pathogens, improve the effectiveness and sustainability of mosquito-borne pathogen control approaches, and develop and maintain robust emergency outbreak preparedness capacity. By helping to protect Illinoisans from mosquito-borne diseases, this program saves the state millions of dollars that would be incurred from medical treatment, worker absenteeism, reduced productivity, and mortality.
The spread and increase in abundance of the Asian tiger mosquito is particularly worrisome as effective control methods are lacking for this important vector. Since 2018, PRI’s medical entomology team has instituted a multi-pronged research program to understand human exposure to mosquito bites (and therefore viruses) in residential areas; mosquito population genetics (to understand introduction sites and potential intervention points); mosquito immunity and survivorship under increasing temperatures (to understand how vectorial capacity may change with changing temperatures), and mosquito overwintering potential (to understand how far north this species is likely to spread and establish in Illinois). Additionally, they are developing two types of novel control methods that use attract-and-kill lures.
In 2021, in response to a surge in Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus cases throughout the U.S., PRI started a multi-year collaboration with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to perform statewide surveys for the main and secondary vectors of this disease and test for this fatal virus, as well as other emerging and neglected viruses, such as the Jamestown Canyon virus.
The expertise in vector-borne diseases and scientific equipment maintained through PRI’s medical entomology program have been leveraged, with additional support from IDPH, to conduct surveillance for ticks that can spread diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Among other findings this surveillance has found that the invasive Gulf Coast tick, which often harbors the pathogen that causes Tidewater spotted fever, is both much more abundant in Illinois and more broadly distributed than previously realized.