Ed Yeates ReportingTwelve days from now microbiologists will begin testing this year's emerging bumper crop of nighttime biting mosquitoes. They'll be looking for evidence of the West Nile virus, where it shows up first, and how rapidly it spreads.
At the State Health Department's lab, microbiologist Kim Christensen is grinding up mosquitoes so her colleagues can extract genetic material that could mark the insect as a carrier of West Nile.
The state lab is ramping up for a bad season, should we have one. In fact, in a worse case scenario, with technicians working night and day they could handle 150 pools of mosquitoes per day. Since a single pool could contain up to 50 mosquitoes, that's more than 7,000 nighttime biters per day.
And it's not just mosquitoes. Microbiologists will also test mouth swabs from dead birds and human blood samples.
Barbara Jepson, Director of Microbiology, State Health Laboratory: "Our laboratory has been preparing for West Nile to hit the state hard for some time. We are better prepared this year than last year to increase our volume of testing."
Cutting edge technology with data banks tied directly to the CDC should provide rapid and accurate reports.
When markers show positive and duplicate tests confirm West Nile, when robotic systems like this match up patients by bar codes with test results, then and only then will the word go out.
Annette Atkinson, State Lab Microbiologist: "I don't want to send to a doctor a false positive. That impacts the patient's care and the fact that it can be very scary to be told that you have west nile virus."
Prepare for the worst but hope for the best! That's where State Health is coming from, hope that residents will practice enough prevention on themselves and their properties that what's projected as a bad season won't be one after all.