The Department of Health urges people to step up their precautions against mosquito bites, such as wearing repellant when outdoors and emptying standing water, to avoid contracting West Nile virus.
Although no human cases have occurred this year, the virus has been detected in mosquito pools from across the state. Also, dead birds, which can indicate West Nile’s presence in different areas of the state, have tested positive for the virus. There have been 62 positive birds from 34 parishes thus far; however, the dead birds are not all concentrated in one area of the state, as has occurred in past years.
“West Nile’s virus cycle is to spread first to birds, then to mosquitoes, then to people,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. “The heavy presence of West Nile in birds and mosquitoes tells us that human cases most likely will occur soon, as these infected mosquitoes transmit the disease to people.”
Ratard emphasized that the best thing people can do to avoid West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites.
“Especially with the heavy rains that have occurred statewide in past weeks, it is very important that people remember to empty standing water around their homes, since this is where mosquitoes breed,” he said. “Also, since people are spending more time outside in the warm weather, they should apply mosquito repellant, wear long sleeves and long pants and avoid wearing perfumes or colognes.”
In humans, West Nile virus typically spreads through bites from mosquitoes that have bitten an infected bird. The majority of people who get the virus experience no illness or an infection similar to a mild flu with fever, headache and fatigue. Rarely, the virus multiplies in the central nervous system and can cause encephalitis or meningitis. If you begin experiencing any of the above symptoms, please contact a doctor or health care provider.
In Louisiana, there were 114 human West Nile cases and seven deaths in 2004. In 2003, the state had 121 cases and seven deaths. The past two years both saw noticeably lower rates of infection than in 2002, when the state had a total of 330 cases and 25 deaths from West Nile virus.
For more information about West Nile virus, please visit www.FighttheBiteLouisiana.com.