Solving the Puzzle Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus & You
Project Overview

Solving the Puzzle PanelEmerging infectious diseases are regularly in the news. Humans are changing environments in ways that bring people into closer contact with organisms (vectors) that transmit disease from one species to another.  Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History is taking a closer look at some of these changes, such as reforestation and the expansion of suburbs into forested areas. The Museum’s professional development program for science teachers – Curricula Modeled on Biodiversity and Vector-borne Disease – is funded by a generous Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The project uses Lyme disease and West Nile virus as case examples to introduce middle and high school teachers and students – as well as the general public – to the ecology and epidemiology of vector-borne infectious disease.  Lyme and West Nile are transmitted by two arthropod vectors: the Ixodes scapularis tick and the Culex pipiens mosquito, respectively.

A traveling panel exhibit was developed, based upon a recent exhibition at Yale Peabody Museum (Solving the Puzzle: Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus & You). The traveling version focuses on Lyme disease and West Nile virus as models for exploring the interplay between environmental change, biodiversity and vector-borne disease. The exhibit includes information on the puzzle that comprises the transmission, detection, and treatment of these diseases. It addresses key components of the pathogens, vectors and hosts for each disease, including the following:

  • essential information about the distinctive tick and mosquito life cycles
  • where and how humans interact with these cycles
  • an examination of common and differing elements of these diseases
  • the differences between bacterial (Lyme) and viral (West Nile) pathogens
  • how our changing environment is increasing the incidence of both diseases
Yale Peabody Museum’s SEPA project collaborates closely with the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) at the Yale School of Medicine.  Both awards are provided by the Division of Clinical Research in the National Center for Research Resources at the NIH. Yale’s SEPA Principal Investigator Leonard Munstermann bridges both worlds, as the curator of entomology at the Peabody Museum and also a senior research scientist in the Yale School of Public Health. SEPAs and CTSAs are vital partners for public outreach and education, because they share a mission to translate scientific concepts and research findings for the community.  “Biomedical and clinical partnerships with a natural history museum are based upon the explicit reliance of such investigations on taxonomic expertise. Investigation of the epidemiology and prevention of disease depends on an understanding of the organisms themselves,” according to Munstermann.