As summer quickly approaches, the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) wants to remind you to take the necessary precautions and protect yourself and your family from West Nile. Louisiana has seen a lot of rain this April, so one of the most important steps you can take now is to check around your home for standing water.
"All this seasonal heavy rain leads to standing water in small containers around the home, which serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that may be infected with West Nile," said LDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. "It's important to check for standing water in buckets, swimming pool covers and anywhere else that could cause a problem."
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 in 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.
About 90 percent of all cases are asymptomatic, while about 10 percent will develop West Nile fever. Only a very small number of infected individuals will show the serious symptoms associated with the neuroinvasive disease. Residents who are at least 65 years old are at higher risk for complications, but everyone is at risk for infection.
In 2014, Louisiana reported 61 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in the state. LDH has been tracking West Nile virus for more than a decade, and statistics about its occurrence in Louisiana can be found in LDH's weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report, found online at www.dhh.louisiana.gov/fightthebite.
Dr. Ratard recommends that all residents take the following precautions:
- 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 percent DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than two months old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following the recommendations appearing on the product label when using repellent.
- Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin.
- To apply repellent to your face, spray it on your hands first, then apply on your face with your hands.
- Adults should always apply repellent to children.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Make sure your house has tight-fitting windows and doors and that all screens are free of holes.
Protecting Your Home
- 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, buckets, trash cans, children's toys or anything that could collect water.
- Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers.
- Routinely clean roof gutters, which 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 left untended by a family 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.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's Twitter account and Facebook.