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Student Works with Mosquito Team in Panama

Last Updated on October 01, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 01, 2018

By Brenda C. Baca

Senior, Clinical Laboratory Sciences

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in research in Panama City, Panama, thanks to the Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program. My research focused on the interaction between Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, two mosquitoes that transmit dengue, zika, and chikungunya.

Brenda C. Baca
Brenda C. Baca

During my first day at the Institute of Scientific Research and High Technology Services (INDICASAT), my mentor, Dr. José Loaiza, told me that the following day we were going to travel to Panama’s rural areas to capture mosquitoes. I was nervous because it was my first time doing fieldwork, and I was going to travel with people I had just met. During the trip, I realized that there was nothing to fear. My mentor and his team taught me all the field techniques and integrated me into the “mosquito team.”

Our first stop was at Tonosi, where we asked the residents for permission to work in their houses. We listened to their testimonies of how a relative recently died from dengue infection. At every house we visited, we instructed them on how to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites.

Once we returned to the city, we did laboratory testing with our samples. Sometimes I felt lost since it was my first time working with mosquitoes. I had to work hard to understand all aspects of my project. I learned how to ask for help and realized that it is OK if you do not know everything as long as you are willing to learn.

Some of the places I visited were the Panama Canal, San Blas Islands and Gatun Lake. I immersed myself in the Panamanian culture thanks to my host family, who taught me everything about their traditions and food.

It is incredible how I have changed in only eight weeks. First, my interest in science and research grew so much that now I want to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. This experience encouraged me to take as many opportunities as possible. I have always been afraid of leaving my country but this summer I was a “first-timer” for so many things that nothing scares me anymore. Being in another country made me more open to accept and learn from different cultures. My MHIRT experience did not end this summer; it is a lifelong journey.

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