| MCAS Yuma Supports Chagas Disease Surveillance on BMGR-W
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Conservation Division and Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 5 Team Up to Conduct Chagas Disease Surveillance on Barry M. Goldwater Range West
Triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs, are nocturnal insects found throughout the Americas. All species are considered potential carriers of Trypanosoma cruzi (T.cruzi), the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Known as the “Silent Killer”, Chagas disease can start out with minor or no symptoms in its initial stages. If left untreated, however, the disease can progress with serious cardiovascular and/or gastrointestinal complications that can ultimately be terminal. While majority of the U.S. population is considered low-risk for contracting Chagas disease, research has found T. cruzi-positive vectors in 27 southern states including Arizona and California. As a result, U.S. Service members and military working dogs residing in or conducting training in these states, such as those training on the Barry M. Goldwater Range West (BMGR-W), are believed to be at an elevated risk for potential exposure.
To help reduce our Warfighter’s exposure to Chagas disease, the U.S. Army Public Health Command – Central (PHC-C) has teamed up with the Texas Chagas Task Force and Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit 5 (NEPMU FIVE) in San Diego to develop a better understanding of Chagas circulation in the Southwest U.S. In 2020, this research team was awarded a two-year grant from the Global Health Engagement Research Initiative to conduct vector and human surveillance of the disease near Southwest border installations/training areas in an effort to develop policies for improved reconnaissance of this emerging infectious threat.
In 2021, NEPMU FIVE contacted the Conservation Division at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma (MCASY) requesting assistance with vector sampling on Barry M. Goldwater Range West (BMGR-W). NEPMU FIVE relied on the expertise of MCASY wildlife biologists to locate Arizona Woodrat (Neotoma devia) nests, which provide triatomines daytime refuge from the harsh desert environment. Once a nest was located, the team of entomologists from NEPMU FIVE carefully dissected it and processed any kissing bugs found. Throughout the two-day sampling effort, 22 kissing bug specimens were collected and prepared for testing at PHC-C. Fortunately, all samples submitted for testing came back negative (no presence of Chagas-causing T. cruzi) which is good news for the Marines and other U.S. Service members and allied forces who routinely train on BMGR-W. NEPMU FIVE anticipates returning to BMGR-W and potentially expanding the surveillance effort to include the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (CMAGR) during the 2022 field season.
Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airpersons are fortunate to have safe access to MCASY’s vast training ranges and airspace so as to better prepare them for battle. MCASY Conservation Division staff are fortunate to be given the opportunity to manage these ranges and support the Warfighters in instances like this. Helping our Navy comrades chase down kissing bugs in 100-degree heat may not sound like much fun (and it really wasn’t), but for the Conservation staff, it is all part of meeting the Installation’s mission statement which is to “Provide aviation ranges, support facilities and services that enable our tenants, other Marine Corps commands, visiting military and interagency forces to enhance their mission capability and combat readiness.”