FORT BLISS — He fights a never ending battle against opponents too numerous to count, each one with the ability to carry a devastating disease.
He is Raymond Randle. His enemies are mosquitoes potentially carrying the West Nile virus. His battlefield crosses more than 1.17 million acres of land, mud and water.
Randle and his team from the William Beaumont Army Medical Center Department of Preventive Medicine conduct mosquito trapping and surveillance all over Fort Bliss to test for West Nile virus and other transmittable diseases.
“I’ve been doing this for seven seasons and we have yet to have a case of West Nile among active duty soldiers on Fort Bliss,” said Randle, environmental health technician, Fort Bliss Environmental Health.
Each week the surveillance team identifies trouble spots on the installation, sets traps and gathers water samples to collect mosquitoes and their larvae. The adult insects are shipped to the U.S. Army Public Health Command Region - North to test for transmittable diseases.
“The best thing to do is get out there and do surveillance. It’s the number-one aspect of this and it’s an everyday affair,” said Randle. “If we don’t actively get out and survey and dig for the mosquitoes and find out where they’re at, we could be in trouble because of the area we’re in.”
Randle added the Fort Bliss area is networked with storm drains and irrigation trenches where the water lays stagnant, creating the perfect environment for mosquitoes. This area is also home to livestock, migratory birds and horses, which can carry the virus.
According to the public health command, West Nile is a mosquito-borne virus first seen in the U.S. in 1999. Since then, more than 30,000 people in the United States contracted the virus, causing more than 1,200 deaths.
The surveillance team sets more than 20 traps a week to ensure they are accurately tracking the mosquito population. If they collect more than 25 female mosquitoes, they will call in the order to spray the area.
This helps the team diminish the number of mosquitoes and could potentially inform them if they have West Nile virus.
“We try to stay on top of the different techniques and methods of containing the mosquitoes,” said Randle. “Since we’ve evolved (the methods) to know where they’re at, we try to take proactive measures as far as pre-treating areas.”
Part of the fight is informing Fort Bliss and El Paso residents on what they can do to defend themselves and help the surveillance team cut down on the mosquito population.
Randle said soldiers conducting training can protect themselves by spraying permethrin repellent on their uniform, DEET repellent on exposed skin and making sure their uniform is worn properly. In addition to this, each person should empty water from birdbaths, old tires, and potential mosquito breeding grounds.
“This is one of the best jobs in the world. I feel very privileged to be able to do this. I’m honored to learn what I have learned and it’s like a public service,” said Randle. “I really take pride in doing surveillance. I get muddy, I get dirty, and it’s all worth it. We want to keep (soldiers) safe and I’m just trying to do my part.”
For more information on efforts to fight West Nile carrying mosquitoes, go to http://phc.amedd.army.mil.