Montana's West Nile Hotspots Being Studied

Having sorted through thousands of mosquitoes, the students split the species and macerated the insects into a soft pulp and then finally began looking for genetic traces of West Nile virus.

"We're interested in learning where the mosquitoes are distributed and how the virus is distributed by those mosquitoes. We’re also looking at the birds. They're the primary reservoir for this particular mosquito”, Grant Hokit, a natural science professor at Carroll College said.

Assisted by three clannish colleges, along with Carroll students and county extension agents, Hokit aims to broaden a bug-catching dragnet athwart the state and draw attention towards the Montana's West Nile hotspots.

While it is not possible for most of the campers to distinguish one variety of mosquitos from the other, Hokit is most fascinated by an insect named Culex tarsalis. Unlike its foil, Aedis vexans, it's the Culex diversity that carries West Nile, a virus that contaminates hundreds of humans and even more domestic animals each year.

More than 271 cases of West Nile virus have been recognized in people in Montana, since 2005. While four have died from the ailment, more than 50 have contracted encephalitis or meningitis, as a consequence of this infection.

But only 10 cases are known to be infected by the disease in the past two years.