Buzzkill for Bugs: Jillian Bowen Educates Kids on Insect-Borne Illness

One student's summer internship helps keep Connecticut residents informed on tick- and mosquito-borne illness with a focus on One Health

smiling woman in a field

Jillian Bowen is putting her background in animal science and pathobiology to good use during her summer internship with UConn Extension. (Jason Sheldon/UConn Photo)

Backyard barbeques, pristine hikes, days spent at the shore. These are all treasured summertime activities in Connecticut. While residents of the Nutmeg State have a lot of warm-weather pastimes to enjoy, they aren’t entirely without risk. Tick- and mosquito-borne viruses are a constant concern not only in Connecticut, but around the country and the world.

Jillian Bowen ’25 (CAHNR) is spending her summer working with the UConn One Health office to educate UConn 4-H members and Connecticut residents about how to enjoy all that summer in the state has to offer without all the risk.

Bowen, originally from Trumbull, is creating educational presentations, workbooks, and infographics with information about topics like ticks, mosquitoes, zoonotic diseases, and antibiotic resistance in an area of health studies that isn’t well understood by the public – One Health.

One Health is an approach that emphasizes how human, animal, and ecological health are interconnected.

For example, mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus or Zika virus, are carried to humans by mosquitos that picked the virus up from another animal. The prevalence of these types diseases in the U.S. is increasing due to climate change expanding mosquitos’ range and human expansion into new areas of mosquito habitats.

“When you only focus on one of those [aspects of health], you’re not getting a full picture of what’s contributing to these issues,” Bowen says. “If we don’t look at climate change, or we don’t look at how we’re going into different areas, we miss a big piece of tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses and we’re not going to be prepared for the future.”

All About Tick Safety

Ticks are carriers of many diseases, and can make you very sick.

Here are some ways to prevent tickborne diseases for both you and your pets, both at home and wherever you go!

  • Remove leaf litter and brush from around your home, and don’t forget to mow your lawn often!
  • On trails, walk in the center to avoid brush
  • Wear light colored sleeves and pants to easily spot ticks
  • Conduct tick checks on yourself and your pets

All About Mosquito Safety

Mosquitoes are carriers of many diseases, and can make you very sick. Here are some ways to minimize mosquito populations in and around your home, and protect yourself from mosquito bites anywhere you go!

  • Empty any sources of standing water
  • Tightly cover trash cans and rain barrels
  • Keep lawn cut short
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellent
  • Wear long sleeves and pants

Bowen’s educational materials focus on facts about the topic, like tick or mosquito anatomy, habitat, and lifecycle. Bowen also includes information about how to prevent contracting diseases that these insects carry, such as draining collected water in yards where mosquitos could breed, or wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside.

“I felt it was important to share because kids and adults can take steps to mitigate the risk of catching these diseases,” Bowen says.

Bowen designed these materials for elementary and middle school students in UConn 4-H programs throughout Connecticut. 4-H is a national youth organization where members receive mentoring and education on topics including health, STEM, agriculture, and civic engagement. UConn’s program is administered by UConn Extension with offices around the state.

While Bowen focuses her resources on information for Connecticut, anyone can use the online resources.

Bowen, an animal science and pathobiology major, says this experience has piqued her interest in potentially pursuing both education and research.

“I really like researching things, so finding all this information on topics I’m interested in has been really fun,” Bowen says.

The One Health office at UConn promotes the holistic concepts of One Health to address complex health problems through educational, experiential learning programs.

The College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural ResourcesExtension internships provide students with the opportunity to learn and work in a paid career-oriented role.

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