Category Archives: Public health

Getting tested for Zika






So you and your significant other are considering whether to get pregnant; but the summer’s headlines about Zika virus and its effect on developing babies has you worried.  Or maybe you’ve just returned from traveling to an area where Zika is active.  You’ve not experienced symptoms of Zika, but you’ve been around others with the disease and you know that 4 out of 5 people who get Zika show no symptoms.  You wonder if you might be infectious to your spouse or partner (Zika can be sexually transmitted). In both cases a test… Read More →




New Zika publications






I was asked a few weeks ago if the collective “we” (meaning the whole state of Texas) were going to be ready for Zika.  My answer was a cautious, “I think so”.  If we’re not, it at least it won’t be for lack of trying. Zika is a much different disease than West Nile virus. It has different vectors, mosquitoes that prefer to feed on humans over any other animal (unlike WNV mosquitoes, which mostly feed on birds).  It is also very difficult to detect in wild mosquito populations.  The… Read More →




Quick fix for mosquitoes






This year my wife and I worked all spring to turn our backyard into a flowery paradise.  We installed drip irrigation, planted new plants (including a bunch of perennials for attracting bees and butterflies) and mulched everything against the coming drought of summer. Now that summer’s here, however, the mosquitoes have decided that since everything’s so nice, they want to be in charge.  In fact I believe every mosquito on the block knows about our backyard, making it difficult to go outside for even a few minutes without repellent. You… Read More →




First mosquito of the season






Before it’s old news, I wanted to make it official.  It’s Aedes (AID ees) season again in north Texas.  Last weekend I spotted my first Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquitoes) of the season.  So from now until November, get used to having these pesky mosquitoes around. Alex Wild, curator of the insect museum at the University of Texas in Austin (the OTHER Texas University) tweeted his first Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito) of the season a month ago.  Since then I’ve been tempting my local backyard mosquito population with my succulent, winter-white legs… Read More →




Zika Virus: What you need to know






Last December I wrote about bracing for a new mosquito-borne disease called Zika.  Since then, evidence of a connection between Zika virus and two scary health conditions called Guillian-Barré syndrome and microcephaly has grown. Although there are still no known cases of Zika being acquired from mosquitoes locally, from within the U.S., there is a real possibility that Zika virus could reach Texas this summer.  If so, these issues will become as important to the average stay-at-home Texan, as it is to those folks who are willing to… Read More →




Lyme disease ticks in Texas






The good news is that the number of Lyme disease cases appears to be low and even declining in Texas.  The bad news is that the tick that carries Lyme disease is well established in Texas and its range appears to be expanding. Even though we don’t hear as much about it here in Texas, Lyme disease is the most common insect-transmitted disease in the U.S.–even more than west Nile virus.  Caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and carried by infected black-legged ticks, Lyme can be a chronic… Read More →




Rodents in attics






There are few household maintenance issues as alarming or frustrating as hearing rodent footsteps in the ceiling or attic.  This happened to me earlier this year in my home, and recently my wife’s office has been hearing the pitter-patter of tiny feet above the ceiling tiles at their place of work. At my home the culprit turned out to be a squirrel that had loosened mortar on the roof/siding interface on my roof.  A 1/2 inch gap is all that a squirrel needs to get into an attic.  In my wife’s office… Read More →




Bracing for ZIKA






Will Zika be the next mosquito-borne disease to capture headlines in 2016?  Or will it be the little disease that few (at least in the U.S.) have heard of?  That’s the question being debated by public health officials this year. For many years it seemed like new things happened relatively slowly in public health in Texas. In the mid 1980s entomologists reported the Asian tiger mosquito in Texas for the first time–a daytime-flying mosquito from Japan that is not shy about biting humans. Then in 2002 the first cases of west Nile virus… Read More →




Kissing bug identification requires closer look






Because most of us take little time to look closely at insects, it should not be surprising that recent television stories about “kissing bugs” and Chagas disease have created a frenzy of sorts among people thinking they have captured or seen kissing bugs around the home.  While a few of these have turned out to be actual kissing bugs (genus Triatoma), most are not; and laboratories set up to identify and test kissing bugs have been overwhelmed this month with samples. But not all insects vaguely resembling the pictures you… Read More →




Oak leaf itch mite confirmed in Oklahoma






In the latest issue of Pest Alerts from the Entomology Department at Oklahoma State University, entomologist Justin Talley reports finding evidence of a biting pest that has not been seen in Oklahoma or Texas for over ten years. The oak leaf itch mite, Pyemotes herfsi, is cousin to the straw itch mite–a predatory mite often associated with stored grain and stored grain insects, and known to bite people who come in contact with infested grain.  It was first reported in the U.S. from Kansas in 2004, a year… Read More →