KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -

A University of Tennessee assistant professor is studying mosquitoes in an effort to eradicate a disease called La Crosse encephalitis.
    
Rebecca Fryxell said that she decided to refocus her research on the disease after hearing about a Tennessee child who died after contracting the virus in 2012.
    
"A young boy died of something preventable," Fryxell said. "That's not OK. It's not."
    
Now, Fryxell spends part of her week collecting mosquitoes that might carry the disease and part of it observing their habitats, patterns and preferences.
    
She says there were 85 cases of La Crosse encephalitis reported last year and 23 of those cases were in Tennessee. East Tennessee has seen more cases than Middle Tennessee.
    
"We really do have a big chunk of that pie," Fryxell said, "and we don't know why. I want to know why."
    
She says she is trying to figure out why the disease is more prevalent in the area and if there's any way to stop it.
    
La Crosse encephalitis virus can result in seizures, paralysis, permanent brain damage or even death and is more dangerous to children or younger teens. Adults may not even exhibit symptoms.
    
Fryxell says the virus is carried by the Eastern treehole mosquito, but not the Culex mosquito, which carries West Nile virus.
    
"The chemicals we use to spray for the Culex doesn't affect the Eastern treehole mosquito," said Ronnie Nease, environmental director for the health department. He said it would be hard to target the Eastern treehole with a pesticide, since "there are so many places they can lay eggs, and they like wooded areas."
    
He encouraged parents to put insect repellent on their children when they play outside.
    
Unlike some other species, Fryxell said, the Eastern treehole doesn't need much water to lay eggs.
    
"These mosquitoes can develop in a tablespoon of tap water, which I didn't believe until I tested it myself," Fryxell said. "It's true."
    
Fryxell said she hopes the research will help her and her students find a way to interrupt the cycle.
    
"We haven't noticed a pattern yet, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist," she said. "This is a preventable disease."