Public knowledge is the key in preventing mosquito-borne diseases. That was one of the messages more than 130 people from across Louisiana heard when they gathered early this summer in LSU's Lod Cook Alumni Center in Baton Rouge, La., for a conference focused on learning how to better fight mosquito-borne diseases. This first-ever conference of its type, hosted by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Mosquito Control Association, featured discussions on topics such as the role of the Centers for Disease Control, the basics of mosquito-borne disease outbreaks in Louisiana, and how to use pesticides appropriately to help prevent the spread of disease.

The conference came on the heels of an encephalitis outbreak in Louisiana that killed several people and animals in 2001.

Roger S. Nasci, a research entomologist with the CDC in Fort Collins, Colo., said knowing how to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses is a key element in dealing with the issue. “Fifty percent of public health is public knowledge,” Nasci said. “If we can teach people how to prevent illnesses from happening, we can help keep a lot of people from getting ill.”

Raoult Ratard, Louisiana state epidemiologist, agrees knowledge is a major player in the fight against diseases such as encephalitis. Ratard referred to the outbreak in northeast Louisiana last year in which 70 cases of St. Louis Encephalitis were reported. “Most of the cases occurred in low socio-economic areas,” he said. “The houses were often run down — many with screens in disrepair.”

Ratard said other contributing factors included large backyards with heavy brush and trees, small containers filled with heavily polluted water and drainage dishes clogged with vegetation and garbage.

“Sitting water is a big attraction to mosquitoes,” Ratard said, adding, “Clean up around your house. Empty all containers filled with water. Rake up the leaves and cut the grass.”

There have been four types of encephalitis found in Louisiana, Ratard said. One is St. Louis encephalitis. The largest outbreak of this disease occurred in Monroe in August 2001 and lasted up to October 2001, he said. The others are the West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and California encephalitis.

Edgar S. Bordes Jr., director of the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board, said the West Nile virus “advertises” when it is in an area.

“When it comes to town, you begin to see dead birds, especially crows,” he said. “These birds can then be tested to see if they have the disease. This is the one you need to look out for. If you see dead crows in the area in which you live, send them in and have them tested if the disease has not already been found in the area.