I completed my postdoctoral fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (CDC, Fort Collins, CO) and collaborated with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Research Applications Lab (NCAR, Boulder, CO).
One research focus was on the ecology of Lyme disease in the United States. On a large scale, I used field surveillance records of black-legged ticks, the vectors of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, to create a vector distribution map under the present climate and under future climate scenarios to identify potential new areas of human risk. Similarly, in order to support the CDC Zika response, we collected county-level mosquito surveillance data and mapped the distribution of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the mosquito vectors of the virus to assess the potential for spread in the United States.
On a smaller geographic scale, I also developed a tick ecology study in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health. We designed a study to understand if people in Minnesota are more likely to be exposed to ticks carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in recreational areas or in their own backyards in order to target public health messages. We also compared tick densities in different land use types in backyards such as woods, lawn, or ornamental plantings so that we could provide recommendations for targeted acaricide applications.
Finally, I worked on the seasonal prediction of West Nile virus (WNV) across the United States using climate data. WNV is a mosquito-borne, zoonotic virus that was first discovered in the U.S. in 1999 in New York City. Since then, WNV spread rapidly across the U.S. and has been documented in all of the 48 contiguous states. WNV is maintained in a bird – mosquito transmission cycle, and therefore, the ecology of the disease is heavily influenced by bird migration, mosquito breeding habitat availability, and ecological conditions that bring the two species into contact.
The goal of this research was to support the creation of an early warning system for WNV that could be used by state and local public health departments to allocate funding for mosquito control and WNV education programs based on expected severity of the upcoming WNV season, which generally runs from June to September. In our descriptive study, we found that higher than normal temperature was associated with higher than normal WNV incidence throughout the United States. The impact of precipitation varied by region. You can learn more via the media coverage on this publication.