Parish Council reviews Zika threat in St. John

Published 12:01 am Saturday, August 13, 2016

EDGARD — Specialists in mosquito-borne illnesses have determined the Zika virus is unlikely to impact local residents.

Dr. Chip Riggins, regional medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Public Health, said it is unlikely for St. John the Baptist Parish to be afflicted by the virus.

“It won’t be mosquitoes who bring this virus to St. John the Baptist Parish, it will be travelers who bring it here,” Riggins said. “So we are watching very closely.”

Riggins spoke to Parish Council members Tuesday during their regular meeting in Edgard.

It is much more likely that a local resident would contract the virus from an infected person through sexual contact than by a mosquito. The virus can live in semen up to 10 weeks following onset of the illness.

“It is only in your blood in high enough levels to pass on for ten days,” said Kyle Moppert, a medical entomologist with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Zika is in the same viral family as West Nile Virus. Zika is known to cause serious and potentially deadly birth defects in newborns. In adults, Zika occasionally results in minor illness and, in very rare cases, an auto-immune system disorder in adults.

West Nile Virus, of which no cases have been reported in Louisiana this year, is carried by birds as well as humans, while Zika is only spread by a mosquito that bites an infected human, or another primate, and picks up the disease and spreads it to another infected human, thus limiting the spread of the disease.

The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is no longer found in St. John the Baptist Parish. The nearest place to St. John that the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been found is in St. Charles Parish, where it butts Jefferson Parish at a canal just west of the Kenner line near the beginning of I-310.

Tulane University entomologists are studying the potential for Aedes albopictus, which is found in St. John the Baptist Parish, to spread the Zika virus.

“(They) should have an answer to that in a couple of months, but right now we don’t even know if albopictus is going to come into play,” Moppert said. “If it does, then it does, but if it doesn’t the worry is going to be in those parishes that have Aedes aegypti.”

The Aedes aegypti mosquito has been found inhabiting certain areas of Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Charles parishes and one neighborhood in St. Tammany Parish, but no mosquitoes in Louisiana have been found infected by or spreading the Zika virus.

Given mosquitoes rarely travel more than 150 yards from where they hatch during their lifespan, it is unlikely inter-parish mosquito travel will occur that would put St. John Parish residents at risk.

Altogether 22 people in Louisiana have been found to have contracted Zika virus, but in all cases the disease was contracted elsewhere, such as Central America or South America, before the afflicted traveled to Louisiana. However, Moppert, said there have likely been many more cases than those reported.

“One in five people that get Zika have symptoms, the other four don’t,” Moppert said.

“So think about it this way, if you’ve had 22 travel cases that we found or have been notified of then we’ve really had over 100 cases.”

Mosquito control units are deployed to the area around the person’s home when a case of Zika virus is discovered in Louisiana to help kill mosquitoes in the area.

Those afflicted by the virus are asked to self-quarantine and wear insect repellant.

Local mosquito control agents are also continuously monitoring mosquito breeding grounds to determine what type of mosquitoes are in the area and if they are carrying any illnesses, such as Zika virus.

The presentation at the St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting by Riggins and Moppert came a week after Zika carrying mosquitoes were found to have infected residents in a Miami neighborhood.

“I thought it was important to come back and find out what we are doing now,” Councilman Lennix Madere said.

“I think we stepped up the process after watching in Florida how they are doing 24-hour spraying and everything like that. I just wanted to make sure that residents of St. John the Baptist Parish are as safe as possible and we are doing as much as we can to make sure they are safe.”