ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Health officials at Aberdeen Proving Ground are conducting a mosquito surveillance program to monitor for potential mosquito-borne diseases in the community, including the Zika virus.

According to Capt. Maritzabel Gonzalez, deputy chief of preventive medicine at the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, effective surveillance relies on identifying larval breeding sites and catching, identifying and testing adult mosquitoes for pathogens.

Mosquitoes are vectors; they can carry pathogens from person to person and place to place. This means a mosquito can bite a person infected with the Zika virus and transmit that virus to another person. Only female adult mosquitoes can carry diseases like the Zika virus.

Gonzalez said summer is the peak time for mosquito activity, because they thrive in warm, wet environments. Mosquito activity is noticeable when nighttime average temperatures consistently rise above 50 degrees.

The Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic mosquito surveillance program is part of the Department of Defense Integrated Pest Management program and a component of the strategy mandated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for controlling Zika-transmitting mosquitoes on military installations.

There are currently five testing sites on Aberdeen Proving Ground North and two on Aberdeen Proving Ground South (Edgewood). Former garrison entomologist Stanley Futch helped determine the best locations to conduct this surveillance, Gonzalez said.

The environmental health team uses two different kinds of traps to collect the mosquitoes. The light trap, which was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides a reliable and portable sampling device for the collection of mosquitoes.

The other kind of trap, which was designed by a private company, attracts mosquitoes using a lure that releases nontoxic substances also found on human skin. These traps attract the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which can carry the Zika virus and other viruses like the dengue or chikungunya viruses, Gonzalez said.

Mosquitoes are collected once a week, and female mosquitoes are identified by species, and then shipped to the Public Health Command - Atlantic (Provisional), located at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the Entomological Sciences Branch test for pathogens.

Gonzalez said that pest control measures will be recommended to the Environmental Management Division Pest Control once the threshold value of 20 mosquitoes per trap is exceeded.

According to the CDC, no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the U.S., but lab tests have confirmed Zika virus in travelers returning to the U.S.

"With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase. These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States," according to the CDC website.

MOSQUITO CONTROL & PREVENTIVE MEASURES

Gonzalez said simple preventive measures can keep the local mosquito population under control. One such measure that she recommends is preventing water from accumulating in outdoor containers, because mosquitoes require water to breed.

"Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots or trash containers," she said.

"Female mosquitoes lay several hundred eggs on the walls of water filled containers. Eggs stick to containers like glue and remain attached until they are scrubbed off. When water covers the eggs, they hatch and become adults in about a week."

Other preventive measures include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors and using insect repellent that contains the active ingredient DEET or picardin. When used as directed, these insect repellents are safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.