NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he’s adding $500,000 to New Orleans’ $3.5 million insect and rodent control budget because locally transmitted cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in Florida.
“Miami is just down the road from us,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.
It’s 660 miles across water or a 12-hour, 870-mile drive. Unlike people, the mosquitoes that carry Zika fly only a few blocks in their lives. But, like West Nile virus, Zika often causes no or mild symptoms.
A mosquito that bit an unknowingly infected person who had traveled from South America or Miami to Louisiana could spread the virus to someone nearby, said Steve Pavlovich, entomologist for a company that has mosquito control contracts with neighboring Jefferson Parish and other parishes and counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia.
Landrieu also again urged Congress to pass a $1.1 billion emergency spending bill to fight Zika through mosquito control and vaccine development.
“Mosquitoes don’t really respect political parties,” said Landrieu, a Democrat.
State health officials say there have been 17 travel-related Zika cases in Louisiana. Seven were in New Orleans, with two more in the metro area, according to city officials.
Landrieu said the extra money will go to “much more aggressive spraying in and around New Orleans.”
There’s no set schedule for spraying, and it depends partly on where travel-related cases are located, said Dr. Claudia Riegel, head of the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board.
Official after official stressed that residents must take the biggest part in controlling the two mosquito species that carry Zika, by making sure their yards don’t have any standing water — even a bottle cap — where the insects might lay eggs.
That can mean removing unused cemetery vases and tilting potted plants such as bromeliads to drain water pooled in their leaves — another spot where mosquito larvae can grow. Riegel said she saw a bromeliad with many larvae this week.
Because tires are a common breeding place, trash collectors will begin taking up to four old tires a week, said Cynthi Sylvain-Lear, the city’s sanitation director.
People should also wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and use mosquito repellent to protect others as well as themselves, in case they have the virus without knowing it, said Dr. Parham Jaberi, assistant state health officer with the Louisiana Office of Public Health.
Mosquito Control Services, which has contracts in six southeast Louisiana parishes, coastal Hancock and Jackson counties in Mississippi and coastal Glynn County, Georgia, has already increased surveillance, Pavlovich said.
He said the company has more than doubled the number of container traps it uses for surveillance of the yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes, which carry Zika, and is moving many of those around to check populations in different areas.
“This is not something we are just ramping up,” he said. “We began ramping up our efforts at the end of last year.”
Pavlovich said the company increases public education and pesticide spraying in areas with the highest concentrations of mosquitoes.