Continuing the fight against West Nile

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Letter Home – Mary Landrieu

For as long as Louisiana has been hot and humid, mosquitoes have been a part of summer. Unfortunately, the emergence in recent years of the West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases means they have gone from being a nuisance to being a serious and deadly threat to Louisianians.

Illnesses such as West Nile represent one of the most serious and preventable public health threats for our state and parish governments. The outbreak of this dangerous disease causes a significant drain on local and state budgets as they strive to carry out effective prevention and abatement programs. To help in the fight against this deadly enemy, Congress last year passed the Mosquito Abatement Safety and Health Act (MASH) of 2003, but complete funding was never allocated. This year, we are continuing our efforts to secure $100 million to be passed along to states and local governments for eradication, control and education programs.

Given the unpredictability of mosquito-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, it is impossible to predict which states will be most affected. But history tells us that the virus is being found earlier and earlier each year as it continues to move west. Already, the West Nile virus has been detected in dead birds in Louisiana – the first one was found in South Louisiana in January and another was found in north Louisiana in April. In 2002, the first dead bird and first human case were not discovered until July.

I am optimistic that we will secure the federal funding needed to help states and parishes fight west Nile and other similar illnesses. In the meantime, there are things that Louisianians should do to protect themselves as much as possible. The CDC recommend the following steps to help prevent West Nile:

If you are going to be outside, apply insect repellent containing DEET to all exposed skin. Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks when possible. Always place mosquito netting over infant carriers when outdoors.

Peak mosquito hours are from dusk to dawn, so take extra care during the evening and early morning.

Report dead birds to local authorities, since they can be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and mosquitoes in the are.

Drain all standing water and consider organizing or participating in neighborhood cleanups to rid communities of containers that might hold water.

MARY LANDRIEU represents Louisiana in the United States Senate.