Sweat, grime, and fresh mosquito bites are all in a day's work for Erica Hernandez. Now an entomology master's student, Erica studies pathogen diversity among Illinois' tick species in the Illinois Natural History Survey's Medical Entomology Lab.
1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but once I started college my interests shifted to biology.
2. What drew you to your current field of study?
I spent my first summer as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign assisting with mosquito fieldwork, which consisted of climbing down into sewers to sample the stagnant water for mosquito larvae. Each day I would come home coated in a layer of grime, sweat and fresh mosquito bites, but also with a sense of pride in my work and its potential to help others and further our knowledge of this important insect vector. My master's research will involve examining pathogen diversity among tick species found in Illinois.
3. What do you love about your work at PRI?
I work with a really great group of people in the Medical Entomology lab who have taught me so many new skills and have always been supportive of my goals. I love coming into the lab every day and learning something new in such a supportive environment.
4. How will your work impact future generations?
Vector ecology is an emerging field that examines pathogens and the paths they take to reach their human host via an insect vector. Vector-borne illnesses tend to be zoonotic in origin and encompass a diverse array of pathogens including the Lyme disease-causing spirochete bacteria and the viral Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. Because zoonotic illnesses hide in an animal or arthropod host when they aren’t spreading among humans, their management and treatment have been difficult. The broader impacts of my master's project could be used to prevent and control the spread of vector-borne pathogens.