Pandemics course buzzes with outdoor activity

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While most Floridians are seeking ways to avoid mosquitoes and horseflies over the summer, a few are actually looking for them. USF College of Public Health graduate students Samia McKeever and Ryan Ortega, both working on MSPH degrees in the Department of Global Health, recently led a group of undergraduates through the rugged terrain around USF Riverfront Park on a hunt for mosquitoes. The planned excursion was for a course taught by instructor Deidre Orriola, MPH. “It’s a senior seminar open to public health majors who don’t mind heat and humidity,” Orriola said. “The activity provides public health students with the opportunity to learn about various vector-borne diseases and mosquito species around the world and in our own back yard. “Students participate in hands-on experiences by collecting existing mosquito traps, identifying several common species of mosquitoes and building new traps.  They also learn about current graduate student research projects and innovations, various fields of graduate study, and a typical day in the life of a global communicable disease graduate student.” Undergraduate pandemics course The course, “Public Health Field Seminar: Pandemics,” is required for public health majors, she said, although it doesn’t always – or even usually – involve mosquitoes. “All of the seminars are very topic-specific,” she said. “There’s one about eating disorders, there’s one about work-force development, and then there’s one about pandemics.” Within each is a specific focus. In the pandemics seminar, epidemiology, infectious disease, emergency planning and preparedness, past pandemics, future threats and emerging infectious diseases are all areas of focus, Orriola said. “Since it’s a field seminar,” she said, “one of the goals of those classes is that the students get out into the field and see what public health is all about, or they get information from people out in the field to see what public health is all about. “So we do several visits in this class. We do visits to the health department, the TB center, a malaria lab, and then we do the mosquito activity.” Of course, an outdoor class meeting for 2-1/2 hours in Florida in late spring requires more than just pen and paper. Sunscreen, bug repellant, bottled water, and long pants to avoid ticks are among the extra necessities. Besides identifying numerous local mosquito species and studying which diseases each carries, students also built two horse-fly traps for the same purpose.

Undergraduate pandemics course 2

Setting up horsefly traps was all in a day’s work for undergraduate in the pandemics course.

The traps are not just the screened cages most people might picture. Students in the field have to be willing to get their hands dirty sometimes. “They had to get water and dirt and debris and set up this trap to mimic the preferred environment of another specific species of mosquito,” Orriola said. The idea for the field exercise came from some of McKeever’s work, Orriola said. During National Public Health Week, she saw a display of mosquitoes, pinned and labeled in classic style. She asked McKeever the source of the specimens, and was surprised by the answer. “Right here at USF. I was really surprised that there were dozens of species,” she said. That revelation led to Orriola asking McKeever to come speak to her undergraduates. “I’ll do you one better,” McKeever said. “I’ll take them out to where I trap the mosquitoes and show that to them.” The result is a class that students are buzzing about to a degree that even surprises Orriola. “They really like it,” she said. “I mean they really, really like it.” Orriola said she plans to offer the course again next summer A session. Story by David Brothers and photos courtesy of Deidre Orriola, USF College of Public Health