Our Views: Slap back against virus

It’s slap season, as in the natural reaction to a blitzkrieg of mosquito bites.

And that means another season is on us when we need to take precautions against West Nile virus, the potentially deadly disease that is borne by mosquitoes.

Last year was an active one for the disease, as the state Department of Health and Hospitals reported 34 cases. The record of more than 200 cases was set in 2002.

This year, the first three cases have been reported in Livingston Parish but fortunately were asymptomatic, meaning that those infected never were ill. The infection was found when blood work was done for other reasons. Even for otherwise healthy people with symptoms, it’s a flulike disease that should lead people to consult a doctor, although it is rarely fatal.

However, in cases where West Nile is neuroinvasive, the results — particularly for older people — can be fatal or cause brain damage.

That’s why the public health agencies, state and local, are rightly urging people to protect themselves.

“Protection is as simple as wearing mosquito repellant and covering your skin,” state epidemiologist Raoult Ratard said. “You can also prevent mosquitoes from reproducing by dumping standing water from containers around your home.”

That last bit is particularly important, not only for public health but for our collective sanity in slap season. Spraying to kill mosquitoes is fine, but eliminating containers of standing water such as old tires is the best way to keep mosquitoes under control.

The New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board also is seeking the public’s help in its annual battle in slap season. The agency said the mosquitoes are increasing this year, including the southern house mosquito that carries West Nile. Baton Rouge authorities also have reported more mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Among other things, the New Orleans agency is publicizing the recycling of tires, because abandoned tires are perfect breeding grounds for the pests. The second Saturday of each month is a collection day in New Orleans.

For those of us with many slap seasons behind us, mosquitoes are probably likely seen as an inevitability of life in Louisiana. Yet the West Nile deaths and illnesses in recent years are an example of a preventable plague; its incidence can be reduced if people take a moment just to look around the yard and clean up standing water containers.

Those precautions can make slap season a little more livable in Louisiana this year.