La Crosse Encephalitis
Our research primarily focuses on domestic mosquito-borne diseases in the western North Carolina region. We use an eco-epidemiological approach to current and emerging issues. Specifically, our principle research activities focus on La Crosse Encephalitis. This viral disease is responsible for the majority of human mosquito-borne disease in NC and is found predominately in the western counties. We have developed a strong collaboration with Dr. Gideon Wasserberg (UNC-Greensboro) to address fundamental questions of how human behaviors (e.g., anthropogenic impacts) increase the risk of exposure to La Crosse virus in western NC.
We also investigate unresolved taxonomic questions within the Culicidae using both molecular and morphological approaches. Additional studies involve the use of molecular techniques to validate morphological characters to distinguish mosquitoes that are often difficult to identify by microscopy. Using DNA sequencing, we (Harrison et al) have validated a novel morphological character to separate the adult females of Aedes (Ochlerotatus) atlanticus and Aedes (Ochlerotatus) tormentor. Additional studies are underway validating morphological characters to identify field collected Culex pipiens and Culex restuans.
In addition, we also collaborate with Dr. George O’Meara (University of Florida) investigating the impact of an invasive mosquito species (Aedes japonicus) from Southeast Asia on our native rock pool mosquito (Aedes atropalpus) populations. Our studies on the impact of this invasive mosquito species have demonstrated the dynamic nature of mosquito-borne disease ecology. This mosquito is now found in high abundance in western NC and has likely displaced a native mosquito species. The public health implications of this invasion are profound because the invasive species is known to be capable of transmitting La Crosse virus.