Diseases like West Nile Virus, Zika, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and others are carried by mosquitos and ticks, putting the health of people and animals at risk around the country.
John Stark, director of the Washington Stormwater Center at the WSU Puyallup Research & Extension Center, is on a new work group organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looking at the potential impact of those diseases and others, called vector-borne diseases, and how to prevent them.
Vector-borne disease cases tripled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016, while nine new pathogens were discovered or introduced since 2004, according to the CDC. Worldwide, diseases from mosquitos, ticks, and other carrying organisms kill more than 700,000 people annually, according to the World Health Organization.
Stark is an environmental toxicologist and entomologist by training, so he wasn’t sure how he fit into a workgroup focused on combatting diseases that affect humans.
“A major aspect of vector control is the potential human and environmental impact of widespread pesticide use,” Stark said.
These diseases don’t have vaccines, and could have major impacts on human health. So the group is looking at controlling the carriers, or vectors, in a variety of ways.
One possible control measure is spraying pesticides over large areas: killing the vectors means the disease doesn’t spread. But the effects of this option on human and environmental health is uncertain.
“We’re looking at models of human exposure to pesticides,” Stark said. “What are the potential impacts on people and the environment to these broad applications? Our models can help predict that.”
Stark’s no stranger to serving with important groups, as he’s worked with the Environmental Protection Agency on several issues and is currently on a panel for the National Academy of Sciences. But he’s impressed by his colleagues on the CDC work group.
“They’re all incredibly bright leaders in their fields,” Stark said. “The CDC people have been awesome. So it’s an honor to serve with people like this on a topic that can have a huge impact on the health of our country.”