Western Gulf Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases

Lead Institution: Institute for Human Infections & Immunity, UTMB HealthPI: Scott C. Weaver, MS, PhD

Partners and Associated Institutions:

ACADEMIC PARTNERS
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M AgriLife Research
  • Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • The University of Texas at El Paso
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • Vanderbilt University
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Houston
Academic Partners
LOCAL PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCIES
  • Harris County Public Health (Houston)
  • Dallas Public Health
  • McAllen Public Health
  • Hidalgo County Public Health
  • Brownsville Public Health
  • Cameron County Public Health
  • Galveston County Health Department
STATE PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY
  • Texas Department of State Health Service

About the Center

The mission of the Western Gulf Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases is to enhance the capacity to anticipate, prevent, and control vector-borne diseases (VBD). Our team is comprised of recognized experts in vector-borne diseases, vector biology and control, epidemiology, and ecology, and is boosted by strong partnerships with state and local public health organizations. As evidenced by the recent arrival of Zika virus, the United States is not adequately prepared to accurately anticipate, prepare for, and respond to emerging VBD. This is a consequence of multiple elements, such as an incomplete understanding of the factors that regulate VBD emergence, importation, and establishment, inconsistent and imprecise methods for vector and VBD surveillance, diminished surveillance capacity due to a chronic lack of investment in new generations of public health scientists, and increasing vector control challenges due to insecticide resistance and intrinsic difficulties related to the ecology and behavior of critical species, especially Aedes aegypti.

WGCVBD Leaders and Partners

We will make significant inroads in solving these critical public health problems through an innovative combination of Center activities designed to: 1) improve the prediction of VBD emergence through enhanced modeling informed by more accurate, efficient, and reliable surveillance; 2) enhance the capabilities and tools of local- and state-level public health agencies through training and the implementation of improved surveillance and control methodologies; and 3) educate a new generation of public health-oriented vector biologists with broad expertise from basic science to applied entomology to span the academic and government scientific communities and drive innovation for decades to come. Our approach will develop new and long-lasting partnerships with academia and public health teams in the region so that, collectively, we can make significant strides in the control of VBD.


Our Goals

We will develop two investments in education and training designed for multi-level delivery. One is for preparation of the next generation of public health entomologists through academic programs, and the second is for preparation of practitioners and municipalities for responding to threats of vectors and VBD. This design provides vertically integrated education and training with applications based throughout the community-state levels in collaboration with academic teaching and research institutions.

TAMU, UTMB, and UTRGV have robust programs with capacities for specific training in medical/veterinary entomology and related fields with a focus on vectors and vector-borne diseases. The Center will provide an educational bridge among these institutions and disciplines to recruit, retain and matriculate new scientists and practitioners. We propose two objectives to enhance long-term student education and training: 1) increase enrollment to meet a growing need for expertise in preventing and responding to VBD, and 2) enhance curricula by linking specific strengths among our programs. To sustain long-term student education and training beyond the expected life of this project, we will develop a curriculum for an academic Graduate Certificate in Public Health Entomology.

We will also capitalize upon our educational capacity to develop our Center-based education for in-service training of employees in the public and private sectors tasked with mosquito surveillance and abatement. The goal is to provide both long- and short-term training horizons composed of five topic relevant areas. The Center will support week-long regional training programs for state and local health departments, municipal institutions, and students from other universities within Texas, in vector surveillance, laboratory and field procedures, vector management strategies, and prevention and communications activities. Those completing the training will receive a Master Vector-Borne Disease Management Certification, pesticide and animal control CEUs, and will be qualified to teach other groups.

Our Center will serve as a catalyst to bridge partnerships among federal, state, and local agencies to improve response and manage emerging VBD. We will organize a Vector-borne Disease Education Community of Practice, a partnership focused on disease prevention education and including representation from city, county, and, state public health agencies, public/private vector control and professional organizations, federal agencies (e.g. CDC, USDA, FDA, DoD and EPA), and academia. The focus will be vector management, bite prevention, and the integration of expertise to improve the management of VBDs. Further, some areas within the Gulf region have small mosquito control communities or insufficient funds to establish or sustain vector control management. A critical focus of the Center will be to enhance these operations and complement existing mosquito identification and arbovirus diagnostic services.

Finally, the Center will develop protocols that allow city and county agencies to adequately test intervention efficacy. As in other areas of the U.S., Gulf region mosquito control interventions are commonly implemented but infrequently with well-designed estimates of efficacy. We will address this problem by building partnerships between our academic units and agencies engaged in mosquito control, and performing a spectrum of studies from observational to non-randomized controlled trials. Based on the results of these evidence-based vector control studies, the Center will guide local agencies on how effective current approaches are and what modifications should be made to further improve the management of VBD.