Federal Faces: Kenneth Linthicum

Name: Kenneth Linthicum

Position: Center Director, USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology

Best known for: Insects, from mosquitoes to sand flies, spread diseases that annually kill and sicken millions of people and animals worldwide. Linthicum is one of the nation’s leading experts on insects and disease prevention, having invented a surveillance system that predicts the onset of the mosquito-borne Rift Valley fever that devastates domestic livestock and causes human illness in Africa and the Middle East.

Working with NASA scientists, Linthicum developed a model that uses global climate data and vegetation changes to predict conditions that will lead to floods. Flooding hatches mosquito eggs in the soil, resulting in the emergence of the virus in adult mosquitoes and the spread of Rift Valley fever.

USDA’s Kenneth Linthicum, one of the nation’s leading experts on insects and disease prevention. (Courtesy of Wrenn Pacheco/Kansas)

His data now provide governments and international organizations with early notice and an opportunity to deploy resources in advance of an outbreak. Linthicum also is responsible for developing techniques to protect U.S. military personnel overseas from debilitating afflictions caused by sand flies. He helped halt the spread of leishmaniasis, a sometimes deadly disease that was a problem for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He developed new approaches for pesticide applications, including treating the camouflage netting that the troops use in the field with an insecticide that resulted in a significant reduction in sand flies that could bite U.S. troops.

Government work: After a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Research Council and 22 years in the military, Linthicum has spent the past eight years working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture on preventing insect-borne diseases.

Motivation for service: Linthicum worked in graduate school on a federally funded project that sought to identify malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the tropics, inspiring him to pursue a public service career as a way to make a contribution to protecting human health.

Biggest challenge: Ensuring that our laboratory retains world-class scientists and support staff and maintains the resources needed to conduct state-of-the-art research and develop novel products to detect and control insects that threaten humans, animals and agriculture.

Quote: “My job as a public servant is to design the best, cost effective and reliable insect and disease surveillance and control products.”

— From the Partnership for Public Service

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