As we headed into mosquito season in June 2002, the LSU AgCenter sponsored a one-day conference on mosquito-borne diseases. This was the first such conference ever hosted by the AgCenter and perhaps the first of its type in the country. Then, no one foresaw the severity of the West Nile virus to come.
On the agenda for the conference were the mosquito and mosquito-borne disease experts at the AgCenter and in Louisiana. Roger Nasci, an entomologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colo., presented the national perspective.
By the fall of 2002, the West Nile virus situation had reached a crisis. But Louisiana was well-positioned to expand educational and research programs.
In September 2002, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals/Office of Public Health (DHH/OPH) provided funds for AgCenter agents and others to survey the numbers and types of mosquitoes in the parishes where people had contracted West Nile but there was no mosquito abatement program. See page 15 for the story of "Operation Mosquito."
Another effort was the "Be a Skeeter Buster!" 4-H program. AgCenter educators armed 4-H’ers across the state with lesson plans and materials that they in turn presented at their schools and to their friends and families. Family and consumer sciences agents also distributed warning materials to the elderly, the group at most risk for West Nile.
In the spring of 2003, the AgCenter spearheaded a series of eight workshops to help the 44 of the 64 parishes in the state with no sustained mosquito abatement program to develop one. Thirty-six of the 39 parishes that sent participants to the workshops prepared a control plan and a proposal to fund it. Read more about the workshops on page 19.
Because of demand, the AgCenter sponsored a second one-day conference on mosquito-borne diseases on April 30, 2003. The agenda and speakers were similar to the year before, including a return visit by Nasci.
He told the group that West Nile is more threatening than other mosquito-borne diseases. He said in 1998, the first year of West Nile in this country, the virus was found in 26 of the 4,000 or so counties nationwide. But four years later, the virus was in 1,947 counties and had spread to 42 states and the District of Columbia.
Both Nasci and Raoult Ratard, the Louisiana state epidemiologist, predict further problems with this disease.
Mosquitoes are here to stay. Louisiana has 68 distinct types, and new, more ominous species have the potential to enter our country as the speed and convenience of trade and travel increase.
The best defense is knowledge, and that’s where the LSU AgCenter comes in. Since 1965, our scientists have been conducting research and extension programs on mosquitoes and their control. In 2002, the AgCenter was ahead of the curve in stepping up educational efforts.
(This article appeared in the summer 2003 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)