Issues of Communication, Concern, and Contestation in Vector-Borne Disease Risk, Diagnosis, and Control

Insect vectors are responsible for nearly 20% of the global infectious disease burden, and changing socio-environmental conditions are likely to further exacerbate this trend. This LARC 2.0 project (in collaboration with Dr. Catalina de Onís) takes as its focus conversations surrounding two important vectors: the tick Ixodes pacificus, which spreads Lyme disease in the Pacific Northwest, and the mosquito Ae. aegypti, which is responsible for the transmission of Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya viruses in Puerto Rico and several southern US states. This summer I will begin research on the contested geographies of Lyme disease risk and exposure in the Pacific Northwest. Lyme disease, though less common than in other parts of the country, is endemic in northern California, and also reported in Oregon. I will use semi-structured interviews, online surveys, and online message board posts to analyze these perspectives of risk, ecology, and geography, and ultimately how this impacts individual lives and decisions.

I am looking to engage with others interested in the complexities and challenges that vector-borne diseases pose to diverse stakeholders, and excited to work across boundaries of natural / social sciences and the humanities. Students may choose to design their own related project surrounding any of the four diseases/two vectors mentioned above. The envisioned overarching research questions that tie this research community together include: What socio-environmental factors underpin disease risk, and how is risk understood? How do different understandings of disease causation, risk, and responsibility contribute to misconceptions and miscommunication between physicians, public health officials, and patients? Through what channels do competing disease discourses and narratives circulate? How are disease risks and outbreaks communicated in times of crisis, and when infection is relatively “silent”.  How and why have physicians and scientists begun to engage more publicly in discussions of disease? And when these conversations become exceptionally fraught (such as the current case with Lyme Disease), how can productive conversation among groups move forward?

Image of Melinda Butterworth

Melinda Butterworth

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science
Willamette University

Liberal Arts Research Collaborative

Address
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
Phone
503-370-6737

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