Hi! My name is Cyril Patra. This year I was selected as 1 of the 5 Public Health Community Scholar Awardees. This fellowship was awarded with an encouragement to contribute valuable research in hope for the improvement of the health status of our community. With this opportunity, I chose to work at the Shelby County Health Department in Vector Control for my practicum this summer. Going into the practicum, I was incredibly nervous. I’ve never worked hands-on with insects before! I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very excited to see what would transpire over the course of the summer.
I learned that the Vector Control department does many amazing things for the community. Specifically in mosquito vector control, the team works on West Nile surveillance in Shelby County. Everyday field workers go out into the county to collect nuisance mosquitoes from Jersey Light Traps and set up and collect Gravid traps for identification of vector borne mosquitoes to be sent to the State Health Department. Additionally, field workers spray insecticide to prevent mosquito population growth and collect mosquito larvae for identification which is then used to document and categorize the locations of where various mosquito species grow. It is a busy day at Vector Control, but there is great team work that keeps the work continuous and strong. What a great team!
I originally planned to work at the Tuberculosis clinic at the Shelby County Health Department, but then a friend of mine, who currently works at Vector Control, informed me of what kind of work goes on there, and I was intrigued. I am interested in working in Global Health with a vector borne infectious disease focus, and here was an opportunity to learn about mosquitoes and other insects that have the potential to carry disease. So, I took it! I was also looking for a practicum that was data driven to be able to do my research for my thesis for the MPH program. I am so pleased with my decision to work at Vector Control. I have learned so much about mosquitoes from their anatomy and physiology to the insecticide mode of action. My mentor, Ture Carlson, has been a huge help as well. He supports my curiosity and patiently takes the time to answer any questions that I may have. I really appreciate having a great mentor who takes the time to answer my questions and help me out when I need help, especially because this is my first time learning about entomology.
Currently, I am working on a mosquito resistance study in Shelby County. Resistance to insecticide is a public health problem. The specific mosquito species I am working with is the Culex species. This species is known to be a vector for West Nile virus. Studying resistance in mosquitoes is important in our county because if there is a high level of resistance to the insecticide, there could be a risk of spread of West Nile Virus if it is present in the county. This will affect the health of our community. In my study, I collect, take care of, and run insecticide resistance tests on mosquitoes every day. A typical day includes spending 3 hours in the morning riding with field workers to aspirate mosquitoes around Shelby County and store them in my small trap. I then transport them to a larger trap with a small pool of water for the gravid mosquitoes to lay eggs, and I feed the mosquitoes with cotton swabs soaked in 10% sucrose water. I work specifically with female mosquitoes as they are the gender that bite for blood meals and have the potential to spread disease. I let the mosquitoes rest overnight, and then the next day I test them for insecticide resistance in the lab.
In my research, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about entomology while working at this practicum location. By asking questions and encouraging discussions, I’ve learned about how mosquitoes transmit disease. Additionally, I’ve learned how to run lab tests on mosquitoes to test resistance. I’ve had the opportunity to apply what I learned my chemistry degree while working with insecticide chemicals and preparing my solutions to run tests. With the help of my colleagues and mentor, I’ve also had the opportunity to build a mosquito trap from scratch. That was great fun!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working alongside great colleagues and learning from them. I also enjoy having an interactive project that keeps me engaged with my practicum. It provides an excellent teaching and learning platform.
My interest in public health is in infectious disease, specifically in vector borne illnesses. Here at my practicum, I’ve had an interactive opportunity to learn about a key vector in spreading illness: the mosquito. I’ve had the privilege to ask our department entomologists questions and encourage discussions about malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. This opportunity to learn will benefit my future in vector borne infectious disease research and intervention.
Why should future students work at this practicum location?
If you are a hands-on kind of student, I highly recommend considering looking into the practicum at the Vector Control department of the Shelby County Health Department. It’s an opportunity to experience and participate in real world surveillance work and learn about public health impact in the community.
What advice would you give to future students about finding a great practicum experience?
Do your research. From the beginning of you graduate school career, begin networking and thinking about what you hope to gain out of the program and practicum. I encourage you to pay attention to things in class that catch your attention. Write it down, and then google it further- whether it be a compelling quote or astonishing statistic that moves you to take action. Find mentors by researching people who are working in the field and see how you can parallel their endeavors, but remember to always add you own creative contribution. Remember, public health is utilizing innovative research, data, interventions, and policy to serve and improve the health of the community; it takes teamwork to make a difference. Find your niche and then develop and integrate your talent and skills into it. Furthermore, I encourage you to keep your mind open to learning new things or learning new ways to do things. Step out of you comfort zone, and I guarantee you will gain a great experience. Be curious, ask questions, and stay connected. Good luck!