The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has received reports of West Nile virus present in more than 175 mosquito pools this year, a number much higher than last year at this time, when 13 pools tested positive.
The high number of positive cases in the pool samples means there is a greater risk of West Nile virus spreading to humans. The Office of Public health is urging the public to take protective measures against mosquito bites.
West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and can cause illness in people and animals. While 80% of human cases are asymptomatic, many people can develop West Nile Fever. Symptoms of West Nile Fever, which is a flu-like illness, can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea or rashes.
A small percentage of people sickened by West Nile Virus can develop a severe form of infection called West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease or West Nile Encephalitis, which can result in hospitalization and death. Symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, muscle weakness, numbness, coma and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks and carry the risk of death or permanent brain damage.
While anyone is at risk of developing severe disease, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and those who are over 60 years of age are at a greater risk. The number of West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease cases fluctuates each year due to many environmental factors and the weather, with previous case counts in Louisiana ranging between 4 and 204 cases each year.
“Now is the time to start protecting yourself from mosquito bites and eliminating mosquito breeding sites around your home,” said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “We’re getting early warning signs from our Mosquito Abatement District samples across the state that West Nile Virus could result in higher case counts among humans this summer.”
There are many ways to protect yourself from mosquito bites:
- If you will be outside, you should wear EPA-registered approved mosquito repellent and always follow product label instructions.
- Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing, but do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin.
- If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
- To protect yourself from being exposed to mosquitos while indoors, make sure that windows and doors are tight-fitting, and that all screens are free of holes.
You should also take measures to protect your home from mosquitoes:
- 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 that may collect water. 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. If a recycling container has holes on the sides, there is still room for the container to collect water for mosquitoes to breed, so holes should be added on the bottom if not already present.
- Check and clean roof gutters routinely. Clogged gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
- Water gardens and ornamental pools can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Take steps to prevent stagnation, such as adding fish or aeration.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended by a family for a little as 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.
- Contact local mosquito abatement districts to report problem mosquito areas.