A national study lists South Louisiana among the projected hot spots in the U.S. for a possible Zika outbreak.
The Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) recent report singles out coastal areas from Louisiana to South Carolina as locations with key factors that could contribute to a higher probability of virus cases. One of those factors is the Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito, which has been blamed for virus outbreak in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, and summer being a favorable time for insect breeding in the southern states.
As concerns grow over mosquito growth spreading the Zika virus this spring, health officials are advising people to take precautions by cleaning or removing anything that might attract mosquitoes in the yard or premises.
“It’s starting to get warmer so mosquitoes will start to multiply,” said Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Hospital (DHH).
“Confirmation of Zika is still probably low, but we have to be prepared for the Zika cases.”
The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) does not anticipate a large outbreak of this virus, Ratard said. At most, CDC predicts small outbreaks possibly in South Florida and South Texas, but also possibly in Louisiana although less likely in the state because of heavier mosquito control.
Ratard said a small outbreak of two to 20 is possibille for Louisiana.
“In Louisiana, it may not be a larger outbreak from mosquitoes, but cases are possible or more likely being carried into the U.S.,” Ratard said. “So far, we have only two cases we have imported from the outside and, so far, no local transmission of Zika.”
Ratard also cautioned, “Eighty percent of Louisiana people live in areas prone to mosquitos.”
Ratard said the virus is “fairly benign” with most people showing no symptoms. For those who do (about one out of five people), they can include can include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
The virus is most dangerous for pregnant women of which scientists are still researching if it is causing babies to be born with abnormally small heads and potential stymied brain development.
About the same time, the World Health Organization declared the virus an international public health emergency. In the same month, Texas confirmed a case transmitted by sexual contact.
Ratard said DHH is working with mosquito control, as well as hospitals and urgent care facilities on procedures to take should they suspect the virus such as checking blood samples and to notify mosquito control if it looks locally acquired.
Zika moves through mosquitos, but it can also move through blood transfusions. He said blood centers are screening for the virus.
Ratard, as well as Steve Pavlovich, entomologist with Mosquito Control Services in Metairie, say take precautions.“That’s very important for Zika,” Ratard said of cleaning out anything that holds water for a few days. “The people can protect themselves better than mosquito control.”
The homeowner is the best to improve the immediate surroundings while mosquito control covers the broader areas.
The two known carriers of the virus are the yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitos.
According to Pavlovich, “People are concerned about Zika and those will be breeding in and around the home in containers around the year.” Both mosquitoes are container breeders, which means cleaning flower pots, buckets, kiddie pools, clogged gutters, aluminum cans kept for recycling, bird baths, ornamental ponds with stagnant water, old tires and whatever attracts water in the yard.
Pavlovich also advises residents use repellants as directed and to wear gloves and long sleeves when staying in the yard for extended periods.