Battling the Nile: Miss-Lou officials fighting mosquitoesPublished 12:20am Thursday, August 16, 2012
VIDALIA — As reported cases of the West Nile virus continue to rise in Louisiana and Mississippi, government officials on both sides of the river are using more precautionary and scientific methods to keep citizens safe from the potentially fatal mosquito bite.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported last week 15 new cases, with three of those cases in Concordia Parish.
So far this year, six people have died in Louisiana from the virus, and DHH has detected 68 cases.
More than half — 37 — of this year’s cases are West Nile neuro-invasive disease, the more serious form of the virus that infects the brain and spinal cord and can cause brain damage or death. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals states that 90 percent of cases of West Nile Virus are asymptomatic.
Two of the Concordia Parish cases reported were neuro-invasive, and the other was asymptomatic.
In its worst cases, West Nile Virus can result in encephalitis or meningitis. In milder cases, it results in nausea, fever, headache, vomiting, muscle weakness and swollen lymph nodes.
Vidalia Street Department Director Lee Staggs said he recently divided the city into four quadrants — north, south, east and west — to determine which areas contained the mosquitos infected with the virus.
On Wednesday morning, Staggs visited all the test sites to empty mosquito traps and collect samples to send to the DHH in East Baton Rouge Parish for testing.
“We’ll divide them into species, figure out what kind of mosquito it is and send them to the department to get results,” Staggs said.
The city sprays for mosquitos Monday, Wednesday and Friday for approximately three hours each day, usually at dusk but also sometimes in the morning, Staggs said.
The city has also been operating a mosquito abatement program since May, putting larvacide in known mosquito breeding areas and also in residents’ pools or backyards.
The tablet kills the mosquitos in the larva or pupil stages.
The chemical and frequency of the sprays is regulated through the LSU Ag Center and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“They’ve been telling me that we’re doing everything exactly how we should be,” Staggs said. “We’re in contact with them all the time to make sure we’re spraying enough and the right amount of chemical.”
Outside of the Vidalia city limits, however, Concordia Parish does not have a mosquito abatement program — yet.
Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said the parish was given a grant several years ago to purchase the necessary equipment, but after six months no longer had the funding for the program.
The issue arose at Monday’s police jury meeting, when several jurors agreed that the program needed to start again with the increase of West Nile reported cases in the area.
“We got our spraying machine out (Wednesday) and had to do a major overhaul on it, but it’s functioning now,” Ferrington said. “We’re going to work on getting some prices for the chemicals, but we still have to get someone certified to spray, and that’s the main issue.”
An employee must be certified by the state and that process can be time consuming, he said.
“I’m getting some paperwork and books together to get some guys to start studying, but it’s going to take a while, and I just don’t see us getting a whole lot of spraying done this year,” Ferrington said. “We’ll do everything we can do because it is very important for the people’s safety.”
As the police jury begins planning the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Ferrington said he will look at getting a spraying program implemented.
“This is something we need to have, so we’re just going to have to look at the budget very closely,” Ferrington said. “We may have to cut some other programs, but we’ll start looking at that when we make the budget.”
Across the river, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported earlier this month that Adams County had one confirmed case of West Nile.
As of Wednesday, the total reported cases in Mississippi is 62.
Since the case was reported in Adams County, Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said the MSDH sent a list of problematic areas to spray more often.
Public works normally sprays twice a week every summer to help curb the mosquito population in the area, but Gardner said the city has increased to spray four or five times a week in those areas.
“We’ve learned over the years what areas need the most spraying, but we also respond to people’s calls,” Gardner said. “The calls have increased because of the West Nile, but we have a good coverage area with the routes we’ve developed over the years.”
The city also puts larvacide in areas with stagnant water to help kill the mosquito larva, Gardner said.
The Adams County Road Department doesn’t have a spray truck or a spray program, but tablets of larvacide are available for residents to use at their houses.
The tablets can be picked up at the department’s office at 307 Market St.