Louisiana continues to see an increase in West Nile virus infections, with the Louisiana Department of Health reporting 15 new cases and four deaths from the disease. So far this year, six people have died from the virus, and LDH has detected 68 cases. More than half – 37– of this year's cases are West Nile neuro-invasive disease, the more serious form of the virus that infects the brain and spinal cord and can cause brain damage or death. This is the highest total of West Nile neuro-invasive infections that have occurred in the state since 2006.
LDH issues a weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report that details cases detected thus far by parish, which is published here. This week's 15 new infections include eight cases of neuro-invasive disease, with one each reported from Bossier, Caddo, Concordia, Jefferson, Tangipahoa, Union, Washington and Webster parishes. There were also new cases of West Nile fever, the milder form of the virus that causes flu-like symptoms, reported from Livingston (1), Orleans (1), Ouachita (1) and St. Tammany (2) parishes. Two new asymptomatic cases, meaning the infected people had the virus but did not feel ill and only discovered the West Nile infection when they had blood work done for an unrelated reason such as blood donation, were reported from East Baton Rouge and Rapides parishes.
"The increased cases we are seeing this year are a firm reminder that West Nile Virus is a serious disease, and people need to be vigilant about protecting themselves," said Dr. Raoult Ratard, LDH State Epidemiologist. "We know from 10 years of surveillance that this disease is active in every corner of the state, and people are at risk of getting it regardless of whether cases or deaths occurred in their parishes. Everyone should own their own health and take precautions against mosquito bites."
St. Tammany Parish has reported the most West Nile Virus infections so far, with six neuro-invasive disease cases, four West Nile fever cases and one asymptomatic case. East Baton Rouge Parish has reported five neuro-invasive disease cases, two West Nile fever and two asymptomatic cases, and Tangipahoa Parish has four neuro-invasive disease cases, two West Nile fever cases and three asymptomatic cases.
Most people who contract West Nile virus will have asymptomatic cases, and nearly 10 percent of all cases will develop West Nile fever. Only a very small percentage of infected people develop neuro-invasive disease, and the elderly are particularly at risk for this form of the virus. But, health officials urge individuals of every age to take precautions.
Local mosquito control partners and abatement districts remain vigilant in keeping the population of infected mosquitos under control, but everyone has a personal responsibility to prevent infection by avoiding mosquito bites.
- If you will be outside, you should wear a mosquito repellent containing DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months. CDC recommends that you always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label when using repellent.
- People should be especially vigilant if they are outside at dusk. The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are most active at that time.
- Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin.
- To apply repellent to your face, spray on your hands and then rub on your face.
- Adults should always apply repellent to children.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for long periods of time.
- Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Make sure that your house has tight-fitting windows and doors, and that all screens are free of holes.
Reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water around your home, which is where mosquitoes breed:
- Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that have accumulated on your property. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools or buckets that could collect water.
- Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
- Clean clogged roof gutters yearly. They are often overlooked, but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
- Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended by a family that goes on vacation for a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.