Eugene Paineau holds a Jay he recently examined for the West Nile Virus after it was found dead and turned in to the Vector Control lab in White City. 2/27/08 Denise Baratta

Birds and diseases

After a typical childhood spent collecting bugs and snakes, conducting experiments in a backyard tree house and gazing at the mosquito-filled skies over Southern California, Eugene Papineau landed a job any bug-crazy boy would envy.

Manager of Jackson County Vector Control, Papineau is tasked with controlling mosquito populations and monitoring for diseases like West Nile virus.

"I guess I spent a lot of time outside. I was that kid who was always trying to lure the trap-door spiders out of their lair ... and I had lots of snakes, lizards, frogs," he said.

He tracks employees and volunteers who monitor for mosquito outbreaks, treats outbreaks that crop up and aids in testing mosquitoes and dead birds.

Born in Deland, Fla., Papineau grew up in Southern California and earned his bachelor's degree at California State University, Long Beach. He then earned his master's at Southern Oregon University.

He admits he enjoyed the two years he spent teaching children in a state-run school, but a move to Jackson County Vector Control in 1978 combined his interest in science with his love for being outdoors.

Papineau worked his way up to the position of district ecologist and was promoted to manager in 1986.

To watch for potential disease outbreaks, the agency collects and tests mosquitoes in various areas of the county every few weeks.

A half-dozen sentinel chicken flocks are kept in Talent, White City, Central Point, Lake Creek and Sams Valley. They're also tested every few weeks for West Nile virus and other potential public health threats.

Dead birds from the corvid family, which includes crows, magpies and ravens, are reported by residents and collected by vector control for testing as well. Those that test positive for West Nile are sent to a state lab for further testing.

In 2007, two chickens, six birds, one horse and two groups of 50 mosquitoes were found with the virus. No humans were known to be infected locally.

"We've been real fortunate in Jackson County," Papineau said. "Mosquito control has done a great job in limiting our exposure. Areas in Eastern Oregon have far higher incidences of things like West Nile."

In addition to treating areas for mosquito larvae, Vector Control also educates the public about preventing environments that would attract mosquitoes, vaccinates horses for West Nile and inspects local irrigation systems for mosquito outbreaks.

"The district needs quite a lot of people to go out and inspect irrigation pastures, ponded areas, creek overflow areas. Once those are found to have mosquito larvae in them, they need to be treated," he said.

Though his favorite elements of the job — being outdoors and working directly with bugs — have lessened with his management role, he enjoys interacting with people and helping the community.

"We meet a lot of animals and ranchers and it's a good way to get to know the area and the people," he said.

"We get calls and questions from people having serious problems with mosquitoes or rats or flies, so 99 percent of the time the services we provide are really appreciated."

Papineau's inner bug-crazy child still gets attention, as he's often called upon to identify the region's most interesting insects.

"We have a little lab in my office so people bring in their weird bugs and I get to look at them and tell them what they are," he said.

Papineau figures the seed for his atypical career was planted in a tree house in Southern California.

"I had my own playhouse in my backyard that was my chemistry laboratory. I spent a lot of time out there making up my own experiments which, I guess to the dismay of my parents, probably went awry more times than not."

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