The Louisiana Department of Health continues to detect West Nile cases up to the year's end, with state health officials reporting 11 new cases and one new death this week.
Louisiana is experiencing its worst West Nile outbreak in a decade this year, and nationwide, West Nile cases are the highest they have been since 2003. Louisiana is among the 13 states with the highest case counts, though according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of the West Nile cases in the country are reported from the neighboring state of Texas.
"People expect to see West Nile cases slow down because we've started having subfreezing temperatures. But, it's important to recognize that mosquitos can hide in culverts or other sheltered areas, then reemerge when the weather gets warmer," said LDH Secretary Bruce D, Greenstein. "We've seen a lot of fluctuating weather around Louisiana, where it's cold one day and warm the next, so West Nile is still a health threat."
Humans contract West Nile when they are bitten by mosquitoes infected with the virus. When people are infected with West Nile, the virus will affect them one of three ways. West Nile neuroinvasive disease is the most serious type, infecting the brain and spinal cord. Neuroinvasive disease can lead to death, paralysis and brain damage. The milder viral infection is West Nile fever, in which people experience flu-like symptoms. The majority of people who contract West Nile will be asymptomatic, which means they show no symptoms. These cases are typically detected through blood donations or in the course of other routine medical tests.
There are four new neuroinvasive disease cases reported this week, with one each from Bossier, Calcasieu, St. Helena and Winn parishes.
There are five new West Nile fever cases reported this week, with one each from Bossier, Cameron, Concordia, East Feliciana and Orleans parishes.
Two new asymptomatic cases were reported this week, from Grant and Pointe Coupee parishes.
Louisiana has had 382 West Nile cases, of which 156 are neuroinvasive disease, and 17 deaths, all of which occurred within two weeks of disease onset, thus far in 2012.
LDH issues a weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report that details cases detected thus far by parish, which is published here.
West Nile virus has been present in Louisiana since 2002, when the state experienced 328 cases, of which 204 were neuroinvasive disease, and 24 deaths. For 10 years, state health officials have conducted robust surveillance year-round, which includes working with doctors, hospitals and health care providers around the state to track human cases and reminding people to be vigilant in avoiding mosquito bites.
Fight the Bite
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 avoid mosquito bites.
Health officials recommend:
- 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 dawn and dusk. The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are most active at that time. But, people should take precautions against mosquitoes if they are outside at any time of day.
- 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.
Another effective way to prevent mosquito bites is to drain stagnant water from around homes and property to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and swarming:
- 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. An unattended swimming pool 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.
"In addition to West Nile, as the weather gets cooler and it gets later in the year, this is the time when Louisiana residents should be aware of flu season," Greenstein said. "If you are six months or older, you should get the flu shot."
For more information on West Nile activity in Louisiana and prevention tips, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov/FighttheBite.