NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As flood victims in Louisiana begin the difficult process of rebuilding their lives, a Tulane mosquito expert warns they should also protect themselves against mosquitoes.
But, she says the West Nile Virus is more of a concern than Zika for areas of the state that flooded because those areas don't have the mosquito species that can spread Zika.
"Flood waters are more conducive to breeding the kinds of mosquitoes that transmit West Nile, and there is evidence of West Nile activity from mosquitoes in the areas of flooding in Louisiana, Baton Rouge and nearby areas," said Tulane University Associate Professor of Tropical Medicine Dawn Wesson.
But,recent rain in the New Orleans area concerns Wesson.
"Zika, more of a concern in the New Orleans area," she said. "We don't have any cases as far as we know, locally transmitted, but certainly our mosquitoes are active right now and we've seen some imported cases here. The risk has increased to some extent just because the mosquitoes are being continuously produced in any containers that are holding water, and the constant rain doesn't allow those containers to dry out so, we've probably had some extra mosquito production in New Orleans as a result of that."
There have been no locally transmitted cases of Zika in Louisiana, but there have been 25 travel-related cases. And, Dr. Frank Welch with the Louisiana Department of Health says that's just the tip of the iceberg when you consider that four out of five people who contract the virus don't even know they have it. He says the state has asked the CDC for help fighting Zika in the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain that have the mosquitoes that can spread the disease.
"The state has requested assistance from the CDC specifically for this effort, meaning can we get both boots on the ground and technical assistance," Welch said. "While the state is mostly focusing on the flooded area, we need help to keep our vigilance on Zika in the five parishes southeast of Lake Pontchartrain to make sure we don't lose focus on Zika during this most critical time."
Wesson believes it's just a matter of time before mosquitoes here start spreading Zika. That's why she says it's more important than ever that you wear repellent and make sure you don't have any standing water around your home.
"This is probably the highest potential for risk for Zika introduction and transmission of the season, this is the peak of mosquito production especially with all that recent rain," said Wesson.
Wesson says it's also very important that people living in flooded areas of the state wear repellent as they're cleaning their houses. After Katrina, she says we saw an increase in West Nile cases because of extra mosquito production and people were exposed to more mosquitoes as they were fixing up their homes.