The Department of Health today confirms two human cases of West Nile virus, the first cases of 2006.

The cases are a Tangipahoa resident who developed neuro-invasive disease from West Nile and a St. Tammany Parish resident who developed West Nile fever, the milder form of the virus with no serious illness. Both victims contracted the disease in late June and are recovering. LDH will release details on age and gender for these cases only after several cases have accumulated because of confidentiality issues.

“We are now in full West Nile virus transmission season, and all residents of all parishes are at risk,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. “Just because a human case has not occurred in your parish does not lessen your chances of catching the disease. By the time a human case gets reported, the actual infectious mosquito bites occurred some three weeks before, so it’s important to always be vigilant about taking precautions against mosquito bites. “

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 previous years, the first cases of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illness began appearing in late June or early July. In 2005, there were 188 West Nile cases (118 neuro-invasive) and 11 deaths from the disease. In 2004, there were 114 cases of West Nile (84 neuro-invasive) and seven deaths and in 2003 there were 122 cases (101 neuro-invasive) and seven deaths from the disease.

The highest year for West Nile cases in Louisiana was 2002, when the state experienced 329 cases (204 neuro-invasive) 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 Office of Public Health Web site at