This week, the Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed four additional cases of Zika virus. As in all of the other cases in Louisiana, the patients travelled to regions in the Americas with ongoing Zika transmission and sought medical care in Louisiana after returning, where tests confirmed the viral infection.
This brings the total to 19 cases of travel-associated Zika confirmed in Louisiana. Although the state of Florida has reported several locally transmitted cases in that state, this is not the situation in Louisiana. Local transmission occurs when an infected mosquito in the area bites another person in the area and transmits the virus. This local transmission is much more likely in the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain than other areas of the state.
Once a travel-related case is identified, public health officials and local mosquito control agencies are notified to take action to minimize the potential for local spread.
Early Detection Efforts in Louisiana
Public health officials in Louisiana are on high alert to detect and report Zika virus cases as early as possible. According to Dr. Frank Welch, Medical Director for the department’s Bureau of Community Preparedness, the early detection of Zika virus is a key strategy to prevent its spread.
“Our surveillance activities include working with hospitals and other health care providers who notify us if and when a possible Zika case is diagnosed, “Welch said. “We also work with mosquito control agencies throughout the state who conduct mosquito testing in areas of known human cases to determine if mosquitos in those areas are carrying the virus.”
Avoiding Infection by Zika Virus
State health officials work with local officials and the healthcare community throughout Louisiana to educate and develop prevention strategies against the local spread of the Zika virus. Working with parishes where we have both returning travelers from Zika affected areas and the mosquito that spreads Zika is doubly important.
Zika virus is of greatest threat to pregnant women, as their child may be at risk for certain severe birth defects as a result of infection. Pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant should avoid travel to areas with Zika transmission. The CDC has a list of travel notices for these areas here. Because Zika can spread through sexual activity, pregnant women should have their partners use a condom correctly every time or abstain from sex.
All travelers to areas where Zika virus is active should be aware and take the following steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites:
- Use an EPA-approved insect repellent.
- Wear light-colored, long sleeves and pants.
- Sleep under a mosquito net if you are outdoors or in an area without door and window screens.
The same precautions apply at home, and people should also make sure their house is mosquito-proof by ensuring their windows and doors have intact screens. Once a week or after every rainfall, empty standing water from any containers around your home, especially in small containers.