UT cre­ates de­vice to de­tect dis­ease-prone mos­qui­toes

In­ven­tion meant to be friendly enough to be used by any­one.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Kelsey Bradshaw kbrad­shaw@statesman.com

Stand­ing just three match­boxes tall, a new de­vice out of the Uni­ver­sity of Texas is ex­pected to make sur­veil­lance of a mos­quito species known for car­ry­ing deadly dis­eases quick and easy.

Re­searchers cre­ated a tool with which users can crush a dead mos­quito and add a mix­ture of chem­i­cals to it. Af­ter a half-hour wait, the blend is poured into a small 3D-printed box, where blue LED lights are cast onto it. If the blend glows green, the mos­quito be­longs to the Aedes ae­gypti species, which can carry the Zika virus, dengue, chikun­gunya or yel­low fever, re­search as­so­ciate San­chita Bhadra and re­search ed­u­ca­tor Tim Riedel said.

Symp­toms of Zika, which has af­fected two peo­ple in Texas this year, in­clude joint pain, red eyes, fever and an itchy rash, Texas Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices of­fi­cials said. This year’s cases have been travel-re­lated and oc­curred in Williamson and Collin coun­ties, they said.

Travis County had one Zika case last year and 18 in 2016, state health data show. Statewide, eight Zika cases were re­ported in 2015, 315 cases in 2016 and 55

cases in 2017.

Right now, the UT re­searchers’ de­vice can only help iden­tify which mos­qui­toes be­long to the Aedes ae­gypti species and whether a mos­quito has come into con­tact with Wol­bachia, bac­te­ria that can help re­duce the spread of some dis­eases. But in the fu­ture, re­searchers want the de­vice to be able to iden­tify whether a mos­quito is car­ry­ing spe­cific dis­eases, such as Zika or West Nile virus.

The de­vice, which took two years to cre­ate, is meant to be friendly enough to be used by any­one, Riedel said.

“Our goal has been al­ways to have this de­vice work in the field with­out need­ing too many steps,” Bhadra said.

The tool also helps make sur­veil­lance of mos­qui­toes a faster and cheaper ex­pe­ri­ence, she said, so it is eas­ier to an­tic­i­pate a pos­si­ble dis­ease out­break and help public health of­fi­cials jump into ac­tion.

“What sur­veil­lance al­lows us to do is ba­si­cally fig­ure out what is com­ing,” Bhadra said. “We are hop­ing that our field sys­tem ... would al­low sur­veil­lance to be done in a much more reg­u­lar and wide­spread man­ner.”

Mos­qui­toes breed more in warmer months, said Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices spokesman Chris Van Deusen. They like hang­ing out in stand­ing wa­ter, which state health of­fi­cials rec­om­mend you drain to avoid them.

To pre­vent mos­quito bites, Tex­ans can use an in­sect re­pel­lent that con­tains DEET, wear long sleeves and pants when the sun is ris­ing and set­ting, use air con­di­tion­ing, and put screens on all doors and win­dows at home, state health of­fi­cials said.

CON­TRIB­UTED

Us­ing a cell­phone cam­era, a small 3D-printed box and a sim­ple chem­i­cal test, sci­en­tists de­vel­oped a di­ag­nos­tic tool that eas­ily, quickly and cheaply iden­ti­fies whether a mos­quito is the type that car­ries dan­ger­ous dis­eases.

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