Joel Lowery (IDM ’17) assisted the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) with its annual surveillance of West Nile Virus (WNV) in Allegheny County as part of the Pittsburgh Summer Institute for Applied Public Health. Lowery’s project—the goal of which was to collect and use data to make informed decisions on vector control related to mosquitoes—was directly associated with the ACHD’s West Nile Virus Control Program, one of several vector control studies being carried out by the Housing and Community Environment Program. Additionally, he participated in surveillance for the possible mosquito vector for the Zika virus, Aedes albopictus, to better understand the mosquito’s distribution in Allegheny County. Lowery was responsible for setting traps on a weekly basis, entering data into a statewide database, and shipping samples to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in Harrisburg for WNV and Zika testing.
Lowery took away from his experience a better understanding of how health departments operate from the inside and says he’s considering pursuing a position in vector control at a health department. He also appreciated the opportunity to confirm what many of his Pitt Public Health professors stressed during his first year: the importance of backing up public health measures with evidence.
“I got a first-hand look at this with my project,” he says. “Using data we collect from our mosquito trapping, we can calculate a vector index, which is a good qualitative measure of the risk of human disease. If the vector index at a site passed a certain point, my supervisors would use that as justification for spraying adulticides to knock down mosquito numbers in that area.”
Not only did Lowery gain experiential knowledge from conducting surveillance and analyzing data, but he also learned from his interactions with members of the community during a special event and while he was setting up mosquito traps, which led to “interesting conversations.”
“I did not realize that WNV is still alive and well in Allegheny County and that it is around every year,” he says. “It was interesting to see how many people did not know what a mosquito looked like, where the mosquitoes like to breed, and other little facts I take for granted.”