Sandra Fiser | 10/4/2004 4:27:20 AM
When the session ended, though, Book said he’s considering campaigning for a share of state funds to fight the threat of the mosquito-borne virus that already has cropped up in birds across the state and perhaps in two humans in North Louisiana so far this year.
While the suspected human cases are still unconfirmed this year, Louisiana had 329 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in people last year.
Meanwhile, the May 28 deadline looms for parishes to apply for a share of $500,000 available through the state Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health. Those funds are earmarked to start local mosquito control programs.
"I’m sure we’re not the only parish government considering it," said Book, when asked about the possibility of applying for a share of the money.
Book represents one of the 44 parishes in the state without a formal mosquito control district – a key statistic that led the LSU AgCenter and its partners to hold a series of seven informational meetings on mosquito control around the state this spring. The sessions, which also are sponsored by the Office of Public Health, the Louisiana Mosquito Control Association and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, conclude Friday (May 23) in Winnsboro.
The purpose of the sessions is to show local officials how to set up mosquito control efforts and to review various options for financing them. Much of that information is contained in documents developed by LSU AgCenter researchers and educators, which has come to be known at the Louisiana Mosquito Abatement Plan – or LaMAP.
The key feature of the Crowley session was a presentation by LSU AgCenter economist Dr. Kurt Guidry outlining how mosquito control can be adjusted to fit the money available locally.
"One size budget does not fit all communities," Guidry stressed.
The all-day session in Crowley Friday (May 16) gave parish officials across southwestern Louisiana the LaMAP blueprint for starting a mosquito control district. Such an endeavor could cost each locale as much as $500,000 to $1 million a year, depending on personnel and equipment, officials said.
But the message at the Crowley session was this: Get started with a program you can afford and build from there.
"When I worked in mosquito control in East Texas, we had a small crew of four or five people, but we covered a large area, and everyone did what they could to get the job done. Sometimes I drove the spray truck," said Lucas Terracina, who today oversees mosquito control in Calcasieu Parish.
LSU AgCenter officials and other experts on hand said some state and federal money may be available for startup costs, but a full-fledged attack on mosquitoes will require local tax revenue to help finance any meaningful effort.
"These sessions are stimulating some interest," Terracina said. "It’s a question of how much you can afford locally."
Terracina and others said there’s more to mosquito control than spraying chemicals every time you see an Asian Tiger mosquito or Southern House mosquito – the two most likely carriers of diseases here.
A top-notch control program includes education of homeowners to remove standing water hazards where mosquitoes breed, surveillance and trapping to get a handle on mosquito populations; judicious spraying of insecticides and efforts to monitor mosquitoes to see if they become resistant to the chemicals over time.
"Our experience with disease outbreaks the past few years makes it clear that we need to do something to address the potential threat of even more serious mosquito-borne diseases," said Dr. David Boethel, the LSU AgCenter's associate vice chancellor, who is coordinating its research and educational efforts aimed at mosquito control. "That's why we have worked to develop strategies and plans for mosquito abatement.
"We’re not here to say you have to do this," Boethel told officials from as many as eight parishes in Crowley. "We’re here to work with you in case you have any interest."
The Crowley meeting was the sixth such session held by the LSU AgCenter’s team. A final meeting is scheduled Friday (May 23) in Winnsboro at the Macon Ridge Research Station on La. Hwy. 15.
The West Nile virus is transmitted from birds to humans and other animals by a number of species of mosquitoes, but primarily by the Southern House and Asian Tiger mosquitoes. Both species live near homes.
The Southern House mosquito commonly breeds in water high in organic matter, such as drainage ditches and oxidation ponds. Asian Tiger mosquitoes deposit eggs in fresh water commonly trapped in flower pots, gutters, trash dumps, abandoned tires along the roadside and other containers.
The average abatement district in Louisiana spends $1.4 million a year on mosquito control today, said Guidry. But the LSU AgCenter economist stressed that figure includes some of the more populated areas with well-established programs.
East Baton Rouge Parish, for example, spends $2 million a year. And Matt Yates, director of mosquito control in East Baton Rouge, said the whole point of the LSU AgCenter sessions is "to help parishes develop a program within the means they have at their disposal."
Some local officials who attended the Crowley seminar said they’re confused by the state paperwork and the fast-approaching deadline to qualify for a share of the money to be distributed by the Office of Public Health. But several said they’ll rush through applications for the money anyway and then fine-tune their budgets before signing a final contract with the state in early June.
John Quebodeaux, Acadia Parish’s emergency preparedness director, said the state money could help local officials convince voters to pass additional mosquito control taxes locally.
"We’re trying everything we can. Last year, we spent $200,000 in one-time (public health) money on spraying (in Acadia). But to do more, it’s going to take more parish support," Quebodeaux said.
Acadia Parish has a one-quarter-cent sales tax proposition on its election ballot July 19 to pay for mosquito control outside the city limits of Crowley and Rayne. A parishwide half-cent sales tax failed last year. The quarter-cent tax would raise an estimated $400,000 to $600,000 a year, Quebodeaux said.
"If we could start with $400,000 to $600,000, it would be something," he said, adding, "That would give us a start, and if the people were satisfied, we could consider expanding from there in another two years."
The LSU AgCenter’s LaMAP workshops also featured detailed scientific advice on how to control mosquitoes.
"Louisiana has a subtropical climate, the preferred climate for mosquitoes," LSU AgCenter medical entomologist Michael Perich said. "And we even have some mosquito species that are more active during the period from October through April than they are during the summer months."
West Nile is showing up in birds throughout the state, so it is important to protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times of the year, he said. "West Nile is not going away," Perich added.
Others warned West Nile isn’t the only threat. "West Nile probably won’t be our last epidemic," said Yates of East Baton Rouge Parish. "The next threat is just a plane ride away. New mosquito varieties are easily transported into the United States, and mosquitoes don’t recognize political boundaries."
Kurt Guidry at (225) 578-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Perich at (225) 578-1835 or email@example.com
David Boethel at (225) 578-4182 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy McClain at (337) 788-8821 or email@example.com
John Chaney at (318) 473-6605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
LSU AgCenter Communications
P.O. Box 25100, Knapp Hall - LSU
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70894-5100
Phone: (225) 578-2263 Fax: (225) 578-4524