NEW ORLEANS -- Officials at the front lines of fighting the Zika virus are warning residents that mosquitos that carry the disease are already here.
For 23 years, Dawn Wesson has studied tropical medicine at Tulane University and remembers back in 1999 when West Nile virus was threatening the U.S.
"The good thing about West Nile good thing was that it did make us aware of the possibility that these viruses could jump from one continent to another and that we need to be better prepared and respond," explained Wesson.
Now it's Zika virus. As a part of the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board, Wesson said it's not a matter of if Zika carrying mosquitos will make their way to south Louisiana, but rather when. In fact, public health officials said those mosquitoes are already here, and it's a just matter of them biting a person already infected with the virus. They said that could start the spread Zika locally.
“These are mosquitoes that prefer to bite you and not birds, and they'll bite you again and again, so they're much more effective at transmitting viruses,” Jim Diaz with LSU health Sciences said.
Experts said there are small things residents can do to prevent the spread of Zika.
"We've already got them here, there being produced in our back yard and containers and if that's the one message I can really get across is clean up your yards,” Wesson said.
Wesson explained the mosquitos that carry Zika don't need that much water to survive, they actually only need about a bottlecap full. She also explained elephant ears, a very popular plant in south Louisiana, tends to catch a lot of water at their base, serving as a perfect breeding ground for these mosquitos. She suggested if you put sand in the base of the plant it should keep mosquitos away from the water.
In July, the Louisiana Department of Health received $2.4 million from the CDC to help fight the virus. So far, there are 17 travel-related cases of Zika in Louisiana, nine of which are in the New Orleans metro area. Wesson said preventing widespread outbreak starts at home.
"We have to be vigilant, go out a couple times a week and empty those containers is really important," said Wesson.