The Department of Health today confirmed 22 human cases of West Nile virus, making 26 cases of the virus diagnosed this year.

The new cases were from Bossier (1), Caddo (2), DeSoto (1), East Baton Rouge (4), Jefferson (1), Livingston (3), Natchitoches (1), Orleans (2), Ouachita (3) St. Landry (1), Terrebonne (1), Vernon (1) and West Baton Rouge (1) parishes. The LDH Office of Public Health received many samples from suspect cases to test in the past week, indicating the virus is starting to spread throughout the state.

Health officials had previously confirmed four cases of West Nile virus, three from Livingston Parish and one from Iberville Parish. Of the 26 cases statewide, 15 have neuro-invasive West Nile, the most serious form of the disease.

There also have been two deaths from the virus; however, out of privacy concerns expressed by the families of the deceased, LDH will not be releasing the parish of residence for those cases.

West Nile virus is spread to humans through mosquito bites, begins with flu-like symptoms and in extreme cases can lead to brain damage or death.

“In several of the parishes where we saw human cases reported this week, there was no recent dead bird activity to predict human cases,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. “This should be a reminder that people should not count on dead birds as a predictor of human cases. Everyone throughout the state is at risk and should take appropriate precautions.”

In previous years, the first cases of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illness began appearing in late June or early July. Last year, there were 114 cases of West Nile and seven deaths and in 2003 there were 122 cases and seven deaths from the disease. The highest year for West Nile cases in Louisiana was 2002, when the state experienced 329 cases and 25 deaths.

To avoid West Nile virus, apply mosquito repellant, wear long sleeves and long pants and avoid wearing perfumes or colognes when outside for prolonged periods of time. Also, remove any standing water from around your home and make sure your windows and doors have secure screens.

For more information on West Nile virus, visit the LDH Web site,