First death confirmed in LA from West Nile virus

Baton Rouge, La.  - Louisiana has confirmed the first death of 2013 from the West Nile virus. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals says the death occurred in Rapides Parish.

DHH is also reporting 10 new West Nile cases this week, bringing this year's total number of cases to 31. Of the new cases reported, six are the more serious neuroinvasive version.  Four cases are from Ouachita Parish and one each from Lafayette and St. Tammany parishes.

Four people who came down with the disease had West Nile fever, with three in Ouachita Parish and one in St. Tammany Parish.  The rest of the cases reported this week were asymptomatic, which means people had no symptoms at all.  Usually, people with the less serious form of the disease only find out they have it through blood tests.

"The state's first death is a reminder of how serious this disease is," said State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard. "We all need to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families."

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 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 65 years old and older are at higher risk for complications, but everyone is at risk for infection.

Last year, Louisiana reported 160 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in the state, which is down from 2002's high of 204 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease. DHH has been tracking West Nile virus for more than a decade, and statistics about its occurrence in Louisiana can be found in DHH's weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report, found on line at

This year, Ouachita Parish has reported nine cases of neuroinvasive disease, Caldwell and Lafayette parishes each have two cases, and Calcasieu, Rapides and St. Tammany parishes each have one case of neuroinvasive disease.

Dr. Raoult Ratard, State Epidemiologist, recommends that all citizens take these precautions to protect yourself:

  • 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% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months. CDC recommends that you always follow 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 on your hands and then rub on your face.
  • Adults should always apply repellent to children.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
  • Make sure that your house has tight-fitting windows and doors, and that all screens are free of holes.