Winn Parish residents will be more informed about mosquitoes and transmission of the West Nile virus and other diseases when mosquito season hits this year — thanks to a collaborative effort among the LSU AgCenter and other agencies that is helping get important information out to them.
Winn Parish is just one example of what the LSU AgCenter is doing around Louisiana to help residents combat the West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.
David Boethel, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor, said AgCenter faculty and administrators have worked with state agencies and other organizations to form a mosquito control outline known as LaMAP, which is short for the Louisiana Mosquito Abatement Plan.
That plan provided outlines and basic information that helped many parishes around the state to form mosquito abatement districts.
A “Skeeter Busters” program also has been taught in Louisiana 4-H Clubs, and other educational programs have been offered across the state.
In addition, the LSU AgCenter is working with 12 parishes that were hard hit by West Nile virus to help them explore options for forming mosquito control efforts in those parishes. The parishes are Allen, Bossier, Concordia, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Washington and West Baton Rouge.
“These programs have increased public awareness of the virus and steps people can take to avoid contracting it,” Boethel said.
In Winn Parish, LSU AgCenter agent Donny Moon said AgCenter agents worked with employees of the Winn Parish School Board, the Winn Parish Police Jury and the City of Winnfield on an educational program designed to monitor the West Nile virus and educate the public about how to prevent it.
“We've developed an educational flier that explained the West Nile virus and how people could control mosquito populations around their homes,” Moon said. “Many of the people living in Winn Parish live in a rural farm setting. They rely on the LSU AgCenter's programs and literature to provide them with information they need for their daily lives.”
In addition to the flier, a poultry testing program was developed at 10 sites throughout the parish to monitor the spread of the virus, Moon said. Testing was done in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
“In the two years of poultry testing, we had two chickens test positive for the West Nile virus in 2002-03 and one chicken test positive in 2003-04,” Moon said. “In the parish, there have been more than 15 reported cases of mosquito-transmitted diseases in the past two years.”
A mosquito abatement board, including representatives from all over the parish, also was developed as a result of the cooperative efforts.
The Winn Parish Mosquito Abatement Board, which works in conjunction with the Winn Parish Police Jury, has received a $10,000 grant from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
The grant was made possible by a 25-percent in-kind match of funds between the city and the parish. It will be used to buy materials for the testing program, pay for educational activities and pay for other expenses associated with the program.
Winn was one of many parishes that applied for and received such grants after the LaMAP program was presented in workshops across the state last year. That program helped parishes to come up with ideas on basic abatement plans, which, in turn, helped them in applying for grants from the state Department of Health and Hospitals' Office of Public Health.
LaMAP was introduced to public officials and citizens across the state in 2003 to spur the state's 44 parishes that didn't have organized mosquito abatement programs to move in that direction. The potential plans contained in LaMAP address such issues as mosquito surveillance, controlling mosquito populations, estimated costs for an abatement program and different methods of funding such programs, as well as public education and community outreach on the subject.
“Thirty-six of these 44 parishes have sent letters of intent to the Department of Health and Hospitals that they want to start such a program in their parishes,” Boethel said.
“A lot of interest has been generated by information the LSU AgCenter has made available to the public.”
Moon said Winn Parish residents, as well as employees of the school board, police jury and City of Winnfield, have increased efforts to reduce standing water and other mosquito breeding sites throughout the city and parish as a result of the educational efforts. Similar results can be found in other locations across Louisiana.
The West Nile Virus was first identified in Africa in 1937, and the first known occurrence of it in North America was reported in 1999 in New York City. Although just one of many mosquito-borne diseases, it is the latest to spread across the country, and the first reported case of the virus in Louisiana came when a blue jay tested positive for the disease in 2001.
The disease is most commonly transmitted to people and animals by infected mosquitoes.
Experts say it poses relatively little threat to healthy individuals but can result in serious complications or even death for high-risk groups such as the elderly, the very young and other people with weakened immune systems.
Experts, who say the disease is expected to remain a threat to Louisianians again this year, recommend these precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites:
- Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are more likely to bite.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you have to go outside.
- Spray yourself and your clothing with an insect repellent containing DEET.
In 2003, 123 Louisiana residents became ill and eight people died from the West Nile virus.
A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter (318-366-1477 or [email protected]).