Alumnus works to protect people from West Nile Virus, Lyme disease


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Feb. 18, Elizabethtown College alumnus Jon Bachman, ‘17, returned to Elizabethtown College to speak to current students about his career as an aquatic biologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).

Bachman is part of a team researching and working to increase awareness of arboviruses. Arboviruses are viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks or other arthropods. Bachman and his colleagues work to protect people from tick and mosquito-borne pathogens, most prominently West Nile Virus (WNV), and more recently, Lyme disease.

The DEP is studying WNV and the mosquitoes that carry it, which according to Vector Disease Control International, are primarily Culex pipiens, Culex tarsalis, and Culex quinquefasciatus.

Bachman and his team look at mosquito habitat so larvae can be suppressed and killed. They also set traps so when a female mosquito lays eggs in their trap they are able to collect the samples. They then smash the eggs and conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the DNA in them. PCR is a process that can make many copies of specific DNA strands. By replicating the DNA they are able to see if the virus is carried by the eggs they collected.

Based on where large traces of the West Nile Virus is found the team determines where they’re going to spray for adult mosquitoes in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

This past year has had the most WNV positive mosquitoes. There were 7,500 positive samples, which was much higher than previous years. The second highest positives found in a year was in 2012 when around 6,000 positive samples were found.

Some important information about the disease Bachman shared was that WNV is not spread between people—birds are the reservoir species for the virus, meaning that the mosquitoes must first get it from birds before they can transmit it to any humans.

Another distinction is that the mosquitoes which often carry West Nile Virus are not the large groups of mosquitoes people encounter. Those are typically the inland floodwater species of mosquito, or Aedes vexans.

Floodwater mosquito eggs often hatch all at once because the adult female mosquito lays eggs that dry out and don’t hatch until they get wet. On years with large amounts of flooding, such as this year, all the eggs get wet and all hatch at same time.

There are 62 species of Mosquitoes in Pennsylvania, but the vast majority do not carry West Nile Virus.

“If you’re being swarmed with mosquitoes they are not the ones carrying the disease,” Bachman said. “If you’re getting swarmed you don’t have to worry about getting the virus. It’s the one mosquito you don’t feel—that’s how you get the virus.”

This year, Bachman’s team has begun to do research on Ixodes scapularis, more commonly known as the deer tick, because of the Lyme disease they carry. Pennsylvania is the worst state for Lyme disease almost, if not every, year. For this reason, the DEP’s research is being funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) through the Department of Health.

Bachman’s team is trying to find 50 adult deer ticks in each county in Pennsylvania to determine the rate of Lyme disease for each region of the state.

According to Bachman, it takes a lot of work to catch 50 ticks.They have to look at three different sites and so they try to pick sites they know people will be at.

Bachman said he has the most luck along the edges of soccer fields with woodlines.

Each search is different, as well. Bachman spent six days in Fulton County, PA and was unable to catch a single tick, and yet in the next county over, Bedford County, he was able to catch over 100 ticks in half an hour.
Bachman said he has a “very, very unique job. It’s more of a public health job.”

To determine the best ways to control West Nile Virus and Lyme disease, he and his peers need to understand the habitats and life cycles of the organisms that spread the illnesses.

Bachman was an environmental science major with a minor in political science. While his career is much more focussed on ideas from environmental science Bachman found his minor helpful to learn and understand environmental law and regulations.

Moreover, his political science minor taught Bachman more about public speaking, which is important as part of his career is to work with representatives of different countries who come to him for advice regarding mosquitoes and ticks.

While at Etown, Bachman was involved with the SEEDS Ecology Club. He was the club’s treasurer his senior year, which was the first year that the College had a chapter of the nationwide program.

Bachman also has a U.S. Army background as he was a member of the Army from 2005 to 2012. He first worked as an Infantry man and later he worked with hazardous materials, or hazmat.

This work in the Army with hazmat led Bachman to the job he held prior to his position with the DEP, which was a job as the hazmat supervisor at a Harley Davidson in York, PA.

One piece of advice Bachman had for students in regards to finding jobs after college is to study the jobs they are applying for closely. “Look into every detail of a job before you go to an interview,” Bachman said.

Bachman recommends students learn about as many fields as they can, and make themselves well rounded in preparation for finding a career.



Please notice the alarming statement of where Bachman finds the most ticks:

Bachman said he has the most luck along the edges of soccer fields with woodlines.

Please educate your family, friends, neighbors, and school systems.  Wisconsin children should all be wearing permethrin treated shoes and socks at the very least as they are at risk.  For more:

Also, I’d like to see Wisconsin go back to ditch burning:

For a similar topic in Wisconsin, see:

Wisconsin has cases of West Nile, La Crosse Virus, & Jamestown Canyon Virus.
Wisconsin is 4th in the nation for Lyme disease.

The CDC says the cases are hugely underestimated – more like 30,000 cases per year in WI.  WI is a hotspot for newly emerging TBI – Anaplasma, Ehrlichia muris, borrelia miyamotoi (relapsing fever), Babesia divergens (in Michigan but Dr. Paskowitz feels it’s probably here too). Anaplasma seeing 400-600 cases a year in WI.  Again, much underreporting.