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UC Davis experts: Sources on West Nile virus, mosquito-borne diseases

UC Davis has the largest West Nile research and public-testing programs in the state of California. The following UC Davis faculty members are available to discuss these programs. For more information or for topics not listed here, contact Pat Bailey, News Service, (530) 752-9843, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu.

Biology of West Nile

Mosquito control

West Nile in people and animals


How mosquitoes transmit disease

Thomas Scott is an expert on how mosquitos transmit disease. He can discuss how scientists look out for mosquito-borne diseases ("surveillance") and how ecology and environmental factors influence the spread of a virus such as West Nile into a new area. Insect-borne diseases are likely to grow in importance as international travel becomes easier and human populations move into new areas, he said. His lab recently identified the mosquito species that are most efficient at carrying West Nile virus and transmitting it to their offspring. Contact: Thomas Scott, Entomology, (530) 754-4196, twscott@ucdavis.edu.

Epidemiology and ecology of West Nile virus

Entomologist William Reisen of the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases studies mosquito-transmitted encephalitis viruses in California, including West Nile virus. He is particularly interested in determining the mechanisms that allow mosquito-borne diseases to persist in California, and what conditions trigger their amplification and transmission to domestic animals and humans. His current projects range from genetic studies in the laboratory with UC Davis researcher Aaron Brault to field studies involving the epidemiology and ecology of these diseases. His newest research projects with medical entomologist Bruce Eldridge and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography involve using climate variation to forecast mosquito abundance and disease risk, and with Hugh Lothrop and the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District on optimizing the use of ground and aerial insecticides that affect adult mosquitoes in rural environments. Contact: William Reisen, Center for Vectorborne Diseases, (530) 752-0124, wkreisen@ucdavis.edu.

Historical and modern insect-transmitted diseases

Gregory Lanzaro is a medical entomologist and director of the UC Davis-based University of California Mosquito Research Program as well as the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Disease. The UC mosquito program distributes university funds to researchers studying mosquito-borne diseases and environmentally safe methods to improve mosquito control. The Center for Vectorborne Diseases is a joint venture of the School of Veterinary Medicine, School of Medicine and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. It focuses on the bacterial, viral and protozoan diseases of humans, domestic animals and wildlife that are transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting flies. Lanzaro himself has active research on the genetics and population biology of mosquitoes that transmit malaria in West Africa and leishmaniasis in Latin America. He can discuss historical and modern insect-transmitted diseases of humans and animals, including control strategies. Contact: Gregory Lanzaro, UC Mosquito Research Program, (530) 752-6983, gclanzaro@ucdavis.edu.

The genetics of West Nile virus

Aaron Brault is an assistant professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology, and a member of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases in UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine. His studies focus on the genetics of West Nile virus, specifically how West Nile viral populations have changed since their introduction to North America in 1999. His research examines how the genetic makeup of the virus controls how the virus infects and reproduces in birds and mosquitoes. This work will have application in developing new diagnostic tests and vaccines for the virus, as well as in estimating risks associated with the emergence of new West Nile viruses with altered disease-causing potential. Before coming to UC Davis, Brault worked for the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contact: Aaron Brault, Center for Vectorborne Diseases, (530) 754-8359, acbrault@ucdavis.edu.


Biology of the Culex mosquito

Associate Professor Anthony Cornel of the Mosquito Control Research Laboratory at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier, and associate director of the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases, focuses on the control and biology of the Culex mosquitoes, which transmit West Nile virus. Because resistance to pesticides is important for controlling the spread of West Nile and other diseases, Cornel is studying how mosquitoes process chemical pesticides. The goal of this work is to develop more sensitive tests for detecting and monitoring pesticide resistance in mosquitoes. He also is developing genetic markers for investigating the population structure of Culex mosquitoes that are major carriers of West Nile virus in order to better predict and prevent pesticide resistance and transmission of the disease. He also makes use of Geographic Information System technology to track the impact of agricultural pesticide use on California mosquitoes. Contact: Anthony Cornel, Entomology, (559) 646-6556, cornel@uckac.edu.

Smells that attract mosquitos

Walter Leal, a chemical ecologist and professor of entomology, is an expert on what smells attract mosquitoes. He creates chemical compound mixtures ("stinky solutions") that attract mosquitoes to traps, so they can be tested for West Nile virus. A past president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, he can discuss smells that draw mosquitoes and smells that repel them. His research has practical implications for explaining how insects communicate within species, how they detect host and non-host plants, and how insect parasites detect their prey. Contact: Walter Leal, (530)-752-7755, wsleal@ucdavis.edu.


West Nile fever in people

Stuart Cohen, an infectious disease specialist and professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine, can discuss West Nile infection in humans -- its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. He also can discuss the possibility of West Nile virus transmission through blood transfusions or organ transplants. Contact through: Charles Casey, Health System Public Affairs, (916) 734-9048, charles.casey@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

West Nile in horses, livestock, wildlife

Gregory Ferraro is director of the Center for Equine Health at UC Davis. The center has recently completed a prospective study of the epidemiological and ecological implications of West Nile virus within California. The data is currently being analyzed and scientific manuscripts reporting on the findings should be available soon. Already, though, it is apparent from the study that current vaccination recommendations for horses are valid. Scientists at the equine center will continue monitoring the disease in horses and related species throughout the coming year to ensure that the health and welfare of California horses will be protected. Contact: Gregory Ferraro, Center for Equine Health, (530) 752-6433, glferraro@ucdavis.edu.

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Last updated Oct. 24, 2008