- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Democrats are warning that Louisiana flooding has left pools of water perfect for spawning Zika-carrying mosquitoes, but experts on the ground say they’re more concerned about an older foe: the West Nile virus.

Louisiana scientists say the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that typically carry Zika are more likely to be found near New Orleans, while the flooding has struck to the west, in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

Those areas are more likely to be home to the Culex mosquito, which spreads West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

“West Nile is definitely a bigger threat in flood-affected areas at this time,” said Rebecca C. Christofferson, assistant professor of pathobiological sciences at Louisiana State University. “If Zika were to get here somehow, the severity of such a hypothetical outbreak would depend on many factors, so it’s hard to say if it would become a ‘bigger threat’ at that point. Right now, we’re just urging homeowners, volunteers, and workers who are cleaning up to dump out standing water and to wear mosquito repellent containing DEET.”

That evaluation undercuts the efforts of Democrats, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to try to connect their demand for more Zika money to the floods.

Louisiana’s brush with Zika has been limited to 23 travel-related cases so far.

SEE ALSO: Florida officials: New locally acquired Zika case near Tampa

Yet the disease is soaking up attention on the national stage, as the administration and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill spar over funds to fight the disease.

The White House called on lawmakers from states like Texas and Louisiana, in particular, to push for the type of deal the administration wants, while Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s director for infectious disease, said he “would not be surprised if we see cases in Texas and Louisiana, particularly now where you have the situation with flooding in Louisiana.”

State officials say there are still watching out for mosquito-borne cases. Areas with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes did see heavy rains in recent weeks, even if they were outside the flood zone.

Across the Gulf of Mexico, meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday said a new Zika infection in Pinellas County does not appear to be travel-related.

Officials said they are still investigating whether the disease is actively spreading in the county, which includes St. Petersburg and is located more than 250 from Miami, where mosquitoes are spreading the disease in the artsy Wynwood neighborhood and Miami Beach.

Mr. Scott on Monday reported four more locally acquired cases in Wynwood, for a statewide total of 42 locally acquired cases. That’s still less than the 405 travel-related cases the state has.

Zika has been blamed for causing birth defects and other complications with pregnancies.

West Nile, meanwhile, can cause an illness marked by headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash.

Less than 1 percent of those infected with West Nile develop a serious neurologic illness, which in some cases can lead to death. Louisiana has averaged more than 60 of those severe cases per year, resulting in 101 deaths since 2001, according to CDC data.

The virus first showed up in the U.S. in New York in the late 1990s, before spreading around the country and finding its way to Louisiana in 2001, when a homeless person sleeping outside became infected.

State Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain this month reported that five horses had died so far in 2016 from Eastern Equine Encephalitis, though there hadn’t been any documented cases this year of West Nile virus in horses or humans as of Aug. 8.

“We’d like to keep it that way, so we are encouraging precautions against mosquito bites,” said Dr. Christofferson.

Kyle Moppert, a medical entomologist with the state Department of Health, said he is hopeful that even earlier flooding in the season knocked out enough larvae to keep case counts of West Nile low this year.

He is even more worried about mud-dwelling mosquitoes, known as Psorophora columbiae, that tend to hatch off in large numbers after flood events. They have attacked livestock in the past, causing dangerous mucus blockages in the animals.

“The bulls were just black with these mosquitoes,” he said.

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