West Nile Virus Risk Could Increase Following Hurricane Katrina, Warns Journal Editor
LARCHMONT, New York The widespread and devastating flooding in the Gulf Coast region caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the threat posed by large areas of standing water in its aftermath, could provide a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, boosting mosquito populations and increasing the risk for transmission of West Nile virus in the long term, warns Stephen Higgs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Center for Biodefense & Emerging Infectious Diseases, Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, and Editor-in-Chief of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
"Because West Nile virus is a relatively recent introduction into the U.S., it is difficult to predict how virus transmission will respond to the environmental changes resulting from Hurricane Katrina," says Higgs. In the short-term, the flooding may have flushed out the existing mosquito larvae, resulting in reduced populations. Over time, however, as the major floodwaters slowly recede, leaving behind large areas of standing water, there is the potential for increased numbers of mosquitoes with greater risk of West Nile virus transmission.
"We have already seen some West Nile transmission to humans in the Gulf Coast areas prior to Hurricane Katrina so we know that there were infected mosquitoes in the region," says Walter Tabachnick, Ph.D., Director and Professor, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory at the University of Florida, Vero Beach. Any increase in the mosquito populations capable of transmitting West Nile that result from the widespread flooding will not be a good thing, particularly to people forced to spend more time outdoors due to damage to their homes. Fortunately, for the next week or so, the great majority of these mosquitoes will be recently emerged from the waters and will not likely be infected with West Nile virus. The risk for West Nile to humans will increase if more people are being bitten and if the numbers of mosquitoes that become infected through feeding on any infected birds in the region also increase over the next several weeks," remarks Tabachnick.
How Hurricane Katrina will ultimately affect the mosquito population and West Nile virus risk in the Gulf Coast region remains to be seen, but "the one sure thing is that if you can avoid being bitten by mosquitoes then you eliminate the risk" of West Nile, says Steve Higgs. It's recommended that residents in the storm-batten areas take standard precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including Viral Immunology and Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Strategy, Practice and Science. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's 60 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at www.liebertpub.com.
Source: Business Wire, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.