BATON ROUGE, La. — Most people don't think about mosquitoes very much during the winter, but LSU AgCenter faculty members aren't among that group.
A team of LSU AgCenter entomologists, Extension agents and other faculty members are working intently on projects that could help communities across the state reduce the risks of mosquito-borne diseases this summer.
The work is part of a cooperative effort between the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Its basic goal is to establish mosquito abatement districts in Louisiana parishes that don't have them — particularly those parishes hit by West Nile virus outbreaks this past summer.
"A lot of people are concerned about mosquito abatement now because of the West Nile virus situation encountered this past summer," said David Boethel, the LSU AgCenter's associate vice chancellor who is overseeing its mosquito research and educational efforts.
"There are some parishes in the state that have had mosquito abatement programs since the 1960s, but there are a lot of other parishes that don't have them," Boethel said. "The (DHH) Office of Public Health has asked us to develop a model for a comprehensive plan for mosquito abatement."
The plan is an outline being developed so parish officials can adapt it to their individual situations when trying to establish mosquito abatement districts. It addresses such issues as mosquito surveillance, controlling mosquito populations, estimated costs for an abatement program, different methods of funding such programs and public education and community outreach.
"The plan we develop should serve as a starting point for discussions about adoption of mosquito abatement in those parishes that currently lack organized programs," Boethel said.
Officials say such a starting point is what those areas need, and that's why DHH is funding the development of the plan — through a contract with the LSU AgCenter.
The latest cooperative ventures between DHH and the LSU AgCenter began this past summer, when DHH funded two LSU AgCenter educational programs on avoiding mosquito-borne diseases and an effort that involved AgCenter faculty and field agents in monitoring of mosquitoes in some parishes.
The monitoring was conducted in 11 Louisiana parishes that didn't have mosquito abatement programs but had been hit by West Nile cases.
Now LSU AgCenter faculty will focus intently on working specifically with officials in those 11 parishes — Allen, Bossier, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Washington and West Baton Rouge — concerning the potential formation of mosquito abatement projects.
"The template we are developing certainly is going to take into account some of the things we learned from the monitoring program this summer," said Michael Perich, a medical entomologist who is the LSU AgCenter's principal expert on mosquitoes.
Perich said experts used three different types of traps and monitored 10 different locations in the 11 parishes involved in the program this summer. The result was the species identification of more than 150,000 captured mosquitoes during the two-month period monitoring was conducted.
"We found 43 out of the 68 species of mosquitoes known to live in Louisiana," Perich said. "Of those, we also identified nine different genera — basically all that are found in the state."
While the data collected in the monitoring effort will contribute to the development of potential plans by AgCenter experts — and the AgCenter's most intense work will focus on those 11 parishes — the efforts won't be limited to them.
The potential plans also will be presented in eight regional workshops across the state, so officials from parishes that didn't have West Nile problems this past summer still could consider using them as the basis for forming mosquito abatement districts in their areas.
"While the situation this summer has led some places to form or to start working on forming mosquito abatement programs, it was still clear this fall that at least about half the state's parishes don't have such programs," said LSU AgCenter entomologist Mary Grodner.
Grodner's earlier survey of Louisiana parishes in May 2002 found 13 had in-house mosquito control programs, eight parishes had programs conducted under contracts with private companies, nine were pursuing development and two had obtained funding but didn't have programs in place.
DHH medical entomologist Dennis Wallette recently agreed with Grodner's sentiment that some of the situations have changed rapidly since that survey last spring, but he said there is still a lot of work to be done toward getting mosquito control programs across Louisiana.
"Livingston has a tax vote in April, and a couple of other parishes have tax votes coming up," Wallette said recently. "Allen has put a program in place, and Tangipahoa is putting one in place."
"On the other hand, Rapides and Acadia have had tax elections that failed," Wallette continued, stressing that implementing programs across the state won't necessarily be quick or easy.
To continue that quest, however, DHH officials also are looking at ways to work intently with remaining Louisiana parishes outside the 11 to be specifically targeted by the LSU AgCenter.
"The bottom line seems to be that concern over the disease situation the past couple of summers — and worry that it could get worse if not addressed — means there may be some state and federal funding available for mosquito control programs," Boethel said. "But in order to participate in the funding, parishes probably will need to have some sort of a plan. We're trying to work with parish officials, DHH and the Louisiana Mosquito Control Association to help them develop those plans."
Tom Merrill is News Editor for LSU AgCenter Communications. (225–578–5896 or firstname.lastname@example.org)