The Department of Health today confirmed two human cases of West Nile virus from Livingston Parish. These are the first cases of West Nile virus for the 2005 season.

The cases are a woman who developed neuro-invasive disease from West Nile and another woman who developed the milder form of the virus, with no serious illness. Both women contracted the disease in early July and are now recovering at home.

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. 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.

Although there have been no other human cases this year, the virus was detected in 64 birds and in mosquito pools throughout the state, indicating the virus was present.

“Now that we have seen human cases of West Nile, it is very important that people remain vigilant and take the necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard.

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.