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As Zika Virus Threat Looms, Louisiana Officials Say They're Prepared

AUG 23, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
Amid reports that pregnant women in South Florida are staying indoors to avoid Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the region, public health experts are now predicting that there will likely be localized cases of the virus in flood-ravaged Louisiana as well as in Texas before the end of the summer.
 
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), appeared on ABC’s “This Week” program on August 21 and warned that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, could soon appear in areas across the southern part of the country. Louisiana is particularly susceptible, he added, given the recent flooding in the region.
 
“I would not be surprised if we see cases in Texas and Louisiana, particularly now where you have the situation with flooding in Louisiana,” he said on the show. “There are going to be a lot of problems getting rid of standing water.”
 
Miami-Dade County in Florida has already reported more than 30 cases of Zika virus infection that have been traced to bites from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from within the area. Experts at the University of Florida estimate that there could be as many 400 cases of the virus in the county by the middle of September.
 
On August 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released recommendations advising pregnant women and their sexual partners against traveling to two communities in Miami-Dade, including South Beach in the city of Miami, and also suggested that all nonessential travel to the county be postponed. Zika, of course, has been linked with complications in infected pregnant women, including microcephaly in babies born to mothers with the virus.
 
To date, 23 cases of Zika virus infection have been reported in Louisiana, and all of them have been travel-related—meaning, those infected had traveled to regions where outbreaks of the disease were already ongoing, such as Brazil and/or Puerto Rico. However, officials in the state have already begun preparing for a localized outbreak, even though there appears to be some disagreement between them and NIAID officials as to the level of risk.
 
According to documents provided to Contagion by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), officials in the state have already initiated surveillance protocols and engaged healthcare providers—including obstetricians treating pregnant women—in education and outreach efforts on the complications associated with Zika. The state is also preparing to institute vector surveillance and control measures designed to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the region. They have also advised residents in the state to use bug spray and protect their homes with window and door screens, spraying, and “mosquito-proofing” water storage vessels.
 
However, Raoult C. Ratard MD, MS, MPH, State Epidemiologist at Louisiana Office of Public Health in New Orleans told Contagion that the recent flooding has not increased the risk for localized transmission of Zika in the state, noting that floodwaters “washed out” most of the mosquito population, and that while “residual pools of water” will allow “flood mosquitoes to grow in huge quantities,” most of these new mosquitoes are “not good transmitters of Zika.”

Aedes aegypti, the main transmitter of Zika, likes small peri-domestic containers and likes relatively clean water,” he said, adding that the state government is still implementing “statewide precautions” to prevent an outbreak during the ongoing mosquito season.
 
Feature Picture Source: Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake / Creative Commons.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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