Yokota manages Zika risks
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Chikungunya. Dengue fever. Malaria. West Nile and Zika virus. These are all vector diseases that are spread to humans through a mosquito population, but are often times ignored as out-of-reach realities. The fact is, there is always a real threat for any of these diseases to break out in the local area.
But, worry not. Programs take place throughout the world to prevent disease expansion, including the 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health flight’s integrated mosquito management program.
The program, also known as the vector management program, monitors mosquitos for threatening diseases and dangerous population surges, mitigating outbreak potential. Maj. Timothy Davis, Theater Preventative Medicine medical entomologist, visited Yokota July 12 – 15 to review and assist with the program.
The primary role of the program is to track, trap and test the mosquito population, keeping the public health flight informed on current vector risks at Yokota. Tiger mosquitos, or Aedes albopictus, are the primary concern for the public health office.
“Through Japan and a good portion of the Pacific region, the tiger mosquito is a very efficient vector of pathogens of these diseases,” Davis said. “There are other species that are more prone to spreading disease, but the amount of tiger mosquitos, and the efficiency they have spreading pathogens, make them an important species to track.”
Trapping is a seasonal operation, typically starting in April or May when the rain and heat combine to make a comfortable living environment for mosquitos. Yokota is divided into zones and each is trapped once a week, concluding in October, when cold weather kills off any real threat of mosquitos spreading diseases.
“Trap placement: It’s more of an art than a science,” Davis said. “You have to get a feel for it and know your enemy, which is the mosquito. They have certain microclimates that they prefer.”
Davis said mosquitos despise the sun, dying off very quickly under its heat. They prefer shady, humid areas. Mosquitos also feed on nectars, or sugars, so areas near flowers and shrubbery are popular breeding grounds.
The trapped mosquitos are separated by sex—only females are used for testing—and put into petri dishes to be sent to Davis’ shop for testing twice a month. The Theater Preventative Medicine office averages 15,000 annual examinations of mosquito specimens for identification and testing at established bases and areas with planned military exercises or movements.
In the Tokyo region, over the years, there have been a number of reports for vector diseases, according to Davis, including the dengue fever breakout in 2014.
Although Zika has not been reported in the area, Davis said it is a threat and one that is constantly monitored. According to Davis, Zika has been in the Pacific for more than 50 years, mainly among the south pacific islands, for example: Tahiti and New Caledonia; there has also been recent reports in Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam.
Members of the Theater Preventative Medicine flight communicate with allies in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and attend joint exchanges where the units share program information. This keeps all sides informed about possible disease breakouts in the region and allows them to conduct preventative measures and mitigate breakouts.
In addition to the control of existing mosquito populations, Davis said there is also concern for possible introductions of other mosquito species in the area. For instance, the yellow fever mosquito used to occur in Tokyo 60 - 70 years ago and it could be reintroduced, especially with the number of aircraft coming in and out of Yokota. This program ensures these risks are carefully and closely monitored.
The local public health shop works with off-base health departments to measure possible outbreaks in the local area, sharing surveillance information among each other. They also keep in touch with the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron entomology shop, who can assist with treatment to kill mosquitos.
If there is a positive find here, the Theater Preventative Medicine flight informs Yokota public health.
Hypothetically, if there was a disease outbreak, the combined efforts of the Theater Preventative Medicine office, the 374 AMDS public health shop, entomology and local health departments would prevent further spread of the disease by removing mosquito breeding grounds, spraying the areas with insecticides, and educating the base populace and local area on ways to lower their risk of infection.
According to Capt. Lauren Angelo, 374 AMDS chief of public health operations, prevention and education are the most efficient actions to mitigate vector disease outbreaks.
“That’s why this program is so important,” added Davis, who brought 12 years of expertise and a wealth of information to aid the Yokota public health team. “There isn’t an easy vaccine that you can get to prevent you from getting sick.”
If a medical patient shows signs and symptoms of a possible communicable disease, it is reported to the health department, Angelo said. A contact tracing is also conducted to find out where the patient had traveled and interactions they may have had recent to the disease diagnosis. This allows public health to determine the real possibility of a disease and if so, how to prevent others from contracting the disease.
There is a travel medicine clinic for people traveling in the region and a deployment health section that sees active duty personnel deploying to areas that may pose a risk, ensuring preventative measures are taken before heading out.
“A lot of people don’t know about the travel clinic, but people should come in and educate themselves before traveling, even before leave,” Angelo said.
Angelo said public health provides EPA-registered insect repellents to service members going on TDY or traveling to a location with known mosquito risks. Her team also provides tips to traveling members, such as to stay in air conditioned areas as much as possible; to where long sleeves and pants if possible; and, if planning on having sexual intercourse, especially to procreate, take extra precautions.
For anyone having issues with mosquitos, there are a few basic tips to improve the situation and reduce the mosquito population. People can ensure there is no stagnant water outside their home, a favorite spot for mosquitos to lay their eggs. Check that nearby drains are working properly and that they aren’t blocked by leaves. Also, mowing lawns and removing high grass reduces the chance of a large mosquito population. The 374 CES may also assist to fill in areas where water may be holding for long periods of time.