Sally was a shoo shoo, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us and Gov. John Bel Edwards says we are ready for coronavirus Phase 3.
In such circumstances, we can take reports of three sick horses in stride.
Sure, some will argue that the emergence of eastern equine encephalitis in Louisiana could signal darker days lie ahead, as the planet warms up. But there is no need to fret if you are a member of the large and happy band that regards climate change as a hoax.
And you might well be. This is a state, after all, that can produce, in the person of Tony Spell, a pastor with a devoted following who preaches that “the COVID-19 scare is politically motivated.” If almost 200,000 Americans are not enough to discredit such a dangerous charlatan as Spell, denying the overwhelming evidence of global warming is child’s play.
But there is a catch. Although science may not have the respect of President Donald Trump, the smart money says it will prevail in the end. And when the experts are finally vindicated, south Louisiana is among the regions that may be rendered uninhabitable.
Such a disagreeable prospect is decades in the future and may seem remote enough to offer hope that mankind can mend its self-indulgent ways in time to ward off environmental catastrophe. Don’t kid yourself. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would indeed do posterity a favor, but only to the extent that its miseries might be somewhat reduced. We have already belched so much carbon into the atmosphere that the planet would continue to heat up for years to come even if we abandoned all polluting activities immediately.
This, the most active hurricane season on record, is about to exhaust the alphabetical resources of the outfit in charge of tempest names, the World Meteorological Organization. We have been warned that hurricanes are becoming not just more frequent but more intense.
Trump denies that climate change has fanned the flames of the wildfires currently ravaging California, which we may take as confirmation that it true.
Greenland glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, presaging disaster for human settlements vulnerable to rising seas in such places as south Louisiana.
COVID-19 won’t be the last pandemic to afflict mankind either. If one virus can hop from animals to humans, so can another. And mosquitoes are prolific vectors of deadly viruses, as Louisiana learned from the yellow fever epidemics of yesteryear.
Yellow fever has been more or less eradicated in this country, but there is no vaccine against such other mosquito-borne diseases as malaria and dengue. We cannot discount the possibility that such ailments will become more widespread, or that hitherto unknown viruses might emerge, as climate change accelerates.
Eastern equine encephalitis is a known quantity, having been around for centuries. It can result in a lingering and agonizing death, or leave survivors with permanent neurologic damage, and there is no vaccine or effective treatment. It is rare in humans, but suddenly not as rare as it used to be.
The National Institutes for Health reported last November that 2019 was turning out to be a “particularly deadly year” for eastern equine encephalitis, with 36 cases confirmed by November, 13 of them fatal.
“In the absence of effective EEE vaccine and treatments, state and local health departments can provide an early warning of imminent human infections by surveilling horses, birds and mosquitoes,” the NIH advised. There is a vaccine for horses.
In the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, nobody is going to panic over one sick horse in Iberville Parish and two in Lafourche. The only way humans or horses can catch eastern equine encephalitis is through a bite from a mosquito that has been infected with the virus when feasting on the blood of birds that inhabit wetland forests.
Such mosquitoes flourish in wet and hot conditions, so that the Louisiana marshes are ideal breeding grounds, especially with climate change making things even wetter and hotter. Hurricanes make conditions friendlier yet, and Louisiana is abuzz right now thanks to Laura.
Eastern equine encephalitis may not in itself be a big deal, but its recrudescence in Louisiana is a disconcerting indication of the chaos climate change might bring. If this a hoax, it must be the most brilliant one ever.
Email James Gill at gill504nola.@gmail.com.