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Vector surveillance provides early detection of potential outbreaks leading to accurate application of vector control, targeted public awareness, and better allocation of medical resources [8-12]. Surveillance requires multiple partners to coordinate activities in a timely manner, execute proper handling and detection methodologies and report results to appropriate agencies. From 2009–2014 students in the Montana West Nile Virus Surveillance Program trapped more than a million mosquitoes, and sorted over 1,500 pools of Cx. tarsalis for WNV testing. In total, 62 mosquito pools were confirmed positive by both our laboratory and DPHHS.

To improve prediction of risk and assess the ability of our model to improve surveillance we propose to expand our active surveillance to include horses. The use of active horse surveillance in an integrated surveillance system can provide valuable information on virus circulation past and present, detection of virus circulation in low WNV-vector risk areas, and provide horse owners with evidence for the need to vaccinate. While horses do not constitute an early warning mechanism they have been shown to be surrogates for humans in terms of predicting WNV infection (13). The use of horses in active surveillance programs has allowed for a more complete assessment of risk and should provide valuable model validation.

Using undergraduate students from six collaborating institutions, we have implemented a program that samples known mosquito vectors from across the state, shares samples with the state public health laboratory, tests for WNV in competent vectors, and reports results to county, state and federal health officials. Funding for these efforts is provided by INBRE, HHMI, and State of Montana.

This program goes further than serving the public health of Montana it also provides much needed training of students through apprentice-based learning and creation of undergraduate research programs at participating institutions. The improved science education and research capabilities of human and laboratory resources in the state are valuable, particularly as emerging and re-emerging diseases spread. Providing undergraduate students with authentic research experiences has resulted in better understanding of the scientific process, competency in scientific techniques, longer retention of scientific information, and better preparation for advanced studies [15,16] and the effects appear stronger for minority students who are underrepresented in the sciences [17].

If we can improve real time reporting, technology adoption and proficiency among all member institutions we will have a model program that integrates a state wide West Nile virus surveillance program with undergraduate research programs from an R1 institution, a 4-year college and four tribal colleges.

Specific Aims

The primary goal of this project is to improve the quality and real time reporting of the Montana WNV surveillance program.

  1. Improve real time surveillance and reporting of results. 
  2. Improve technology transfer and proficiency at tribal colleges.
  3. Apply a WNV risk model to generate hypotheses about vector locations.  
  4. Increased horse sampling for testing hypotheses related to use as sentinel species for WNV exposure, surrogate for predicting human infection, model validation tool and a sensitive marker of endemic areas and virus circulation.

Primary Contact

Sam Alvey salvey@carroll.edu